Ethical questions are being raised about an immigration judge whose husband has invested in private prisons, Mother Jones magazine reports.
The issue involves Chief Judge Linda R. Reade, whose husband, Michael Figenshaw, bought between $30,000 and $100,000 worth of additional private prison stocks before a massive immigration raid (in 2008) on a kosher slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa, the magazine reported Aug. 24.
The nearly 400 immigrants charged in the raid were then sent to Iowa’s northern jurisdiction to be sentenced by Reade and others, the article stated.
“A reasonable person might question whether or not the judge’s husband was essentially trying to benefit the judge and himself financially by virtue of knowledge the judge acquired in her judicial administrative position,” said Richard Flamm, a California-based ethics expert, to Mother Jones.
Congressional hearings were held to address allegations of prosecutorial and judicial misconduct during the immigration hearings for the undocumented individuals arrested during the Postville raid.
According to a memorandum from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) used in court documents, Judge Reade attended a meeting with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to discuss “charging strategies.” The investigation reports that during the meeting, Reade was informed that ICE anticipated about 700 arrests at the kosher slaughterhouse.
“I am uneasy about the perception problem created when a judge may be financially vested in more people going to prison when she has defendants coming before her for sentencing every week,” said Charles Gardner Geyh, a law professor at Indiana University Maurer School of Law.
The magazine reported one defense attorney wrote a letter of concern to a member of the House Judiciary Committee claiming “Chief Judge Reade had already ratified these deals prior to one lawyer even talking to his or her client.”
Ethics experts maintained Reade should have excused herself from the entire case because of her family’s investments in private prison stock.
“The entire proceedings were scripted (by Judge Reade and court clerks),” said Erik Camayd-Freixas, an interpreter for Spanish-speaking defendants during the proceedings.
A federal code of conduct encourages judges to avoid impropriety. This includes situations in which the judge’s immediate family has a financial interest in the subject matter in question, reported the article.
“As long as her family held prison stock, Reade had a conflict of interest because anyone she sentenced to time behind bars might be sent to a private facility that she had a financial stake in,” said Leslie Abramson, a specialist in judicial ethics at the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law.
The U.S. Sentencing Commission reported that the Northern District of Iowa sends a higher proportion of defendants to prison with longer sentences than the national average.