Monday, Jun 17, 2024

“Ice Raid” Judge Under Fire for Railroading Prosecutors

Judge Stephanie Rose of Iowa, much-criticized for her role in the infamous “Postville prosecutions” when she was still a federal prosecutor, has come under fire after allegedly trying to manipulate criminal prosecutions, and for threatening retaliation against attorneys who made her angry. Judge Rose was sworn in as a federal judge earlier this year, after opposition by those who believed she was a driving force in the “Postville prosecutions” had quieted down.

She had been grilled in Senate confirmation hearings about her role in what many viewed as the trampling of human rights by federal authorities in the 2008 ICE raid, and in the criminal prosecutions that followed. Although third in the chain of command in the U.S. Attorney’s Office at the time, Rose told senators she had “a very minor role” in the proceedings that jailed or deported hundreds of immigrants en masse.


Despite eyewitness testimony to the contrary, she dismissed claims that her office had denied the arrestees sufficient translators and proper legal representation, saying the treatment accorded them was “everything it should have been.”


Her advocates, including Iowa Senators Grassley and Harkin warmly defended her, saying she had simply “followed orders from Washington.” Colleagues praised her credentials, talking of “her love of fairness and integrity.”


“Stephanie always wanted to make the world fair for everybody,” one said. “Rose is bright, straight forward and incapable of pretense,” another gushed.




How hollow these glowing plaudits ring today. Rose now serves on the federal bench in the southern district of Iowa. In just nine months on the job, she has repeatedly clashed with prosecutors who object to her dictating to them how to do their job more aggressively so that defendants will be subject to the maximum possible punishment.


She is also fighting an age discrimination lawsuit brought against her by attorney Martha Fagg, a former employee who is suing her for harassment, for unfairly docking her pay and forcing her to work in a hostile environment when Rose was U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa.


But it is the most recent scandal, in which emails have come to light that suggest that Judge Rose has on numerous occasions violated judicial ethics, that has punctured her façade of fairness and integrity. 


According to articles in the Des Moines Register, Rose is accused of urging prosecutors, in ex parte emails not shared with the defense, to produce evidence that would enable her to lengthen jail sentences in cases pending before her.


As a result of legal filings that are part of a current appeal, many of these emails have now been unsealed and made public.


The Des Moines Register reported that a number of these emails show Rose complaining to U.S. Attorney Nicholas Klinefeldt in Des Moines that his prosecutors aren’t giving her information that can be used to extend sentences. Court transcripts show Rose has clashed with prosecutors over that issue in three cases in the nine months she’s been on the bench.


In one email, Rose berates the U.S. Attorney over prosecutors’ failure to comply with her orders to provide more incriminating evidence against defendants, even though this would mean violating a plea deal.




In another clash with prosecutors over the same issue, Rose sent a bombastic email with the subject heading “Hulk,” in which she likens herself to a cartoon superhero who turns into a menacing creature called “Hulk,” when angered. Rose wrote, “You know how [superhero] Bruce Banner says, ‘You won’t like me when I’m angry’? There’s a lesson in there for all attorneys.”


Rose was forced to unseal this and other emails when a defense attorney, appealing Rose’s sentence against his client, accused her of imposing an excessive jail term as an act of retaliation against a prosecutor who had made her angry.


The prosecutor had failed to provide additional evidence against the defendant that would support an enhanced sentence, as Rose had required. Rose and the prosecutor clashed in court, while “my client was caught in the crossfire,” the defense attorney argued in the appeal.


He said Judge Rose became “angry and frustrated” at the prosecutor’s resistance to cooperating with her orders to provide more evidence against the defendant. In apparent retaliation, Rose summoned a witness to the stand and, playing prosecutor, elicited testimony from him. She then used that testimony to impose a much lengthier sentence on the defendant.   


“Any defendant would be particularly alarmed by such judicial advocacy in seeking to enhance his sentence,” the attorney, Dean Stowers, wrote in a motion, describing what he viewed as an astounding breach of ethics.


“Most defendants have a hard enough time defending against the prosecuting attorney. … They at least should expect the judge will not be assuming the role of prosecutor-in-chief,” he wrote.


In appealing the case, and protesting the ex parte emails to prosecutors, Stowers asked for all relevant email correspondence between Rose and prosecutors to be made part of the court record. Resistance was useless, since the emails could be obtained from the prosecutors who received them, and Judge Rose complied. The ensuing scandal has now forced her conduct under the spotlight.




A Des Moines Register op-ed addressing Rose’s ex parte emails to prosecutors demanding more incriminating evidence slammed her conduct for “violating the rule of judicial ethics.”


“The job of a judge is to be a neutral arbiter, not to be an advocate for one side or another of a case. It would be no different had the judge phoned the defense lawyer to offer advice on how he could improve his client’s case,” the Des Moines Register said.


Although Rose insisted there was nothing improper about her private communications with the U.S. attorney’s office, “it looks bad,” the article said. “As with any ethical question, even the appearance of bias is as bad as a technical violation of the rules of ethics.”


Appearance of bias? That ought to ring a bell. That was one of the lynchpin arguments of the Rubashkin appeal that produced evidence of Judge Linda Reade’s deep involvement in the ICE raid on Agriprocessors, and the criminal prosecutions that followed.


The nation’s top legal experts decried the evidence of prosecutorial misconduct and the blatant lack of judicial neutrality in the Rubashkin trial, but the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, as is well known, saw nothing wrong with it. The blurring of the judicial and executive functions, in violation of the Constitution, was apparently no cause for alarm.


Is it any wonder that newly appointed Stephanie Rose, just a few months into the job, feels at liberty to continue the tradition of abusing the powers of office?



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