Solitary Confinement in Black Hawk County:

He was handcuffed and led into an elevator, where he was pushed, or fell, and refused to get up and walk with his head uncovered. Guards carried him to his cell. In response to what jail authorities called “argumentative” behavior for asking calmly that his religious rights be honored, he was forced into solitary confinement, in a dirty seven-by-ten cell.

The next morning, in the Waterloo courtroom, his lawyer, Montgomery Brown, explained to Judge Nathan Callahan about his client’s religious dietary restrictions and other religious obligations. He was finally allowed kosher food brought from Postville. But Callahan refused to render any decisions on the matter of Sholom Mordechai’s religious rights to his ritual garments, items and books.

Callahan had already denied Brown’s request for a trial delay. Brown said pre-trial publicity from Rubashkin’s sentencing hearing last week on federal financial fraud crimes, as well as an article in Monday’s Des Moines Register, could prejudice the jury.

Brown also argued he needed more time to investigate several videotaped interviews because they were just provided to him by prosecutors last Friday. The tapes show three potential witnesses, despite repeated questioning, telling investigators they do not know if Rubashkin knew underage workers were at the plant, Brown said.

Callahan said jury selection would continue this week and the trial will begin on Monday, May 10.

Judge Callahan said Iowa law does not require Rubashkin to be present during the trial, so it will proceed without him, if necessary. “I’m not trying to be disrespectful of anybody’s religious traditions or beliefs,” he said. “But I’m not derailing this proceeding because of [the prisoner’s] choice.

Legal experts have noted that “choice” is not the operative word when speaking of matters of religious obligations and conscience.  The requests made by Sholom Mordechai fall well within the purview of prisoner’s religious rights, they said.

Finally, thankfully, on Tuesday evening, Sholom Mordechai ben Rivka was returned to Linn County jail, where he has been incarcerated since November.