Postville raid creates potential conflicts for attorneys

On May 12th the largest single-site workplace raid in U.S. history resulted in arrest warrants being issued for 697 employees of Agriprosessors Inc., the largest kosher slaughterhouse in the United States. As a direct result of the raid 389 people were detained and over 154 immigrants were charged with federal offenses ranging from misuse of social security numbers to aggravated identity theft. Each of these individuals charged with federal criminal offenses in the Northern District of Iowa were entitled to court appointed counsel if they could not afford an attorney. Many of these immigrants lived from paycheck to paycheck and could not afford to retain private counsel. This created a very unusual and troubling problem for the courts. How do these individuals receive adequate representation to protect their rights when the Northern District of Iowa does not have enough attorneys on the court appointed panel list to represent each and every defendant? The solution was to appoint o1 attorney to 10 defendants at a time.

This seems like a logical solution to an unheard of problem but it also creates significant issue that will have to be addressed in the future that actually hurt the more prominent criminal defense attorneys in the Norther District of Iowa. The reason being is that many of the individuals initially detained and charged are floor level employees who have been provided plea agreements whereby they "debrief" to the authorities and in essence, implicate their supervisors and plant management in more serious criminal activity such as harboring illegal aliens and now there are stories brewing about allegations of soliciting sexual favors from employees in exchange for promotions and raises. The lower level offenders are being used as witnesses against those alleged to have committed much greater and more serious offenses as is usually the case in the federal criminal "justice" system.

The problem that arises comes from the fact that most if not all of the criminal defense attorneys in the Northern District that practice in federal court will be representing at least one defendant who has entered into a cooperation agreement with the government. What happens then when indictments are handed down and arrests are made for the managers and supervisors against whom the floor level employees are testifying against? There will likely be no federal criminal defense attorneys remaining in the Northern District to represent these people because they will all be conflicted out. Once an attorney has represented a client who has provided testimony against another, he or she is then precluded from then representing an individual whom his/her client has provided testimony against. This is a classic conflict of interest. Thus, who is left to represent the defendants charged in the imminent second wave?

These conflicts of interest not only creates problems with finding attorneys that are able to represent the new waves of defendants (this will probably be remedied by bringing in attorneys from other areas including the Southern District of Iowa) but it also prohibits some of the best and brightest federal criminal defense attorneys in the Northern District from being privately retained by those clients that can afford them. This is an unfortunate situation where those attorneys willing to assist the indigent end up suffering economic damage when they could otherwise be experiencing a significant boost in business. Kudos to those criminal defense attorneys in the Northern District that are putting the rights of the indigent criminal defendants above their own financial gain. We'll just have to wait and see how this whole thing shakes out.