More than two months before the evidence hearing on Stewart Parnell’s motion to have his conviction overturned and convicted, his appellate attorneys and the government dispute the ground rules.
The government asked the court on December 7th to “set a reasonable period for the parties to exchange lists of exhibitions and witnesses. . . or alternatively order a planning conference at will of this dish. “
On October 9, 2020, US Judge Thomas Q. Langstaff ordered the government to have Parnell with the CB King Federal Courthouse in Albany, GA, to hear on February 24, 2021 regarding the motion to have his conviction waived and convicted on an “ineffective legal representative.”
Before 2010, 66-year-old Parnell was the top executive of the now-defunct Peanut Corporation of America. If the upcoming application negotiation is unsuccessful, Parnell has 18 years to serve his 28-year sentence on convictions for PCA peanut butter and peanut paste, which caused a fatal salmonella outbreak in several states in late 2008 and early 2009. Parnell is being held in a federal prison in South Carolina.
Appeals attorneys Amy Lee Copeland of Savannah and Amy Levin Weil of Atlanta represented Parnell at the hearing. Both Copeland and Weil used to be appellate attorneys for the Justice Department. You have objected to the government’s request for Parnell’s witness and exhibition lists.
“Such an arrangement gives the government a one-sided advantage, leads to further litigation over ‘good cause’, and is not a request that is supported by federal, local regulations, or jurisdiction.” You wrote in a December 14 reply.
According to Speare I. Hodges and Leach E. McEwen, both of the DOJ’s consumer protection division, Parnell’s appellate attorneys told the court that it would take them at least two days to produce multiple witnesses and evidence. “To this day,” they wrote, “the government expects the petitioner to call four former legal counsel to the booth, among others.” The government also anticipates that the petitioner will produce a significant number of exhibits at the hearing and has already presented ample documentary evidence to the court which he believes supports his position regarding pre-trial publicity and alleged jury bias . “
Hodges and McEwen expect hundreds of pages of court judgments, many news articles, online sources like Wikipedia, and census data. They say: “As in practically every exchange procedure Providing specific witness and exhibition lists between the parties would help ensure a proper, efficient and fair hearing through which the court can best make a fair decision. “
Prosecutors also argue that with the “ongoing pandemic” making travel and other logistics “difficult” “reasonable measures” are being taken to allow all parties to prepare, avoiding surprises. They also point out a local rule in the Georgia Middle District that requires hearing exhibits to be provided in advance. They also note that the court could hold a planning conference to work out details.
Parnell won what is known as a “2255 hearing” for federal code, which allows federal detainees to file a lawsuit if they can show that their sentence violated the US Constitution or United States law.
According to his lawyers, Parnell will make two claims of infectious assistance to the council, both of which “focus on his fundamental right to a fair and impartial jury.” The first is that his legal counsel could not go on strike for good cause because jurors heard people died of a salmonella outbreak related to the Peanut Corporation of America, and second, that the legal counsel did not seek a change in the company because of the overwhelming publicity and juror bias around the case.
Regarding sharing more information ahead of the February 24 hearing, Parnell’s attorneys say the government knows enough, including the names of the four main witnesses – the four attorneys who represented Parnell in court – their general strategy and media files .
They find that at a 2255 hearing, Parnell has the “burden of proving the claims.” “If the court were to allow the government’s motion, Mr. Parnell would have to file his entire case three weeks before the hearing,” the appellate lawyers wrote “The government might – even likely – have nothing to reveal. Mr Parnell’s disclosure would give the government three weeks to seek and find disproving witnesses and exhibits, who would then attempt to supplement their lists for the reasons stated. This would run the clock, meaning that if Mr Parnell were also to look for refuting witnesses to attack the refuting government witnesses, he would likely run out of time. “
They insist that nothing in any of the rules requires such pre-hearing disclosure, and the government has not said what would be achieved at a planning conference.
In its response to Parnell’s attorneys, the government argued that trading in witness and exhibition lists would not bring any benefit, nor would it “start an arms race.” And the DOJ said the prediction that it had nothing to disclose was completely speculative.
Also during the pre-hearing skirmish, Parnell’s attorneys asked the judge to instruct the clerk to provide them with copies of the jury questionnaires that were cursed at the 2014 jury.
Stewart Parnell and his peanut broker brother Michael Parnell are the only PCA law enforcement subjects remaining in federal custody. Michael Parnell, 61, has 11 years to 20 years in prison. He is being held in Federal Prison in Fort Dix, New Jersey. He’s not part of 2255’s claim, which his brother has been filing since 2019.
Three other former PCA executives were released from federal custody after serving 3 to 6 years.
The outbreak associated with PCA criminal convictions resulted in thousands of illnesses and at least nine deaths. However, no one was charged with these deaths. The 76-count charge in the early 2013 case resulted in convictions of the Parnell brothers for multiple federal crimes of fraud, conspiracy, and the launch of adulterated foods.
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, Click here.)