One of Iowa's most prominent federal judges is accused of improperly playing the role of "prosecutor-in-chief" in criminal cases by ordering the U.S. Attorney's Office to provide evidence that can result in longer prison sentences, court records show.
U.S. District Court Judge Stephanie Rose has complained to U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa Nicholas Klinefeldt that his prosecutors aren't providing her with information that can be used to extend prison sentences, according to a Des Moines Register review of emails that are part of a court case and were recently unsealed.
Court transcripts show Rose, a former prosecutor who is now in her first year on the bench, has clashed with prosecutors over that issue in at least three criminal cases this year.
In a case involving convicted drug dealer Bryan Holm, Rose ordered prosecutors to provide evidence that could extend Holm's prison sentence on a weapons charge. When they refused, citing a plea agreement they had signed, Rose called a police officer to the stand, questioned the officer herself and imposed a sentence that was two to three years longer than what prosecutors had contemplated.
Rose then sent prosecutors an email comparing herself to the comic book superhero the Hulk, saying there was "a lesson" there for attorneys: "You won't like me when I'm angry."
Holm's attorney, Dean Stowers, says in court papers his client was "caught in the crossfire" between Rose and federal prosecutors who refused to do her bidding. Stowers, who is appealing Holm's sentence, says the Hulk email "tends to support the view that there is a price to be paid" if prosecutors don't take her advice.
"Any defendant, including Mr. Holm, would be particularly alarmed by such judicial advocacy in seeking to enhance his sentence," Stowers wrote in court filings.
"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," wrote.