The nation’s youngest federal judge compared herself to the “Hulk” in a menacing email to a prosecutor, warning, “You won’t like me when I’m angry. There’s a lesson in there for all attorneys.” The email is one of several pieces of evidence in unsealed court records examined by the DesMoines Register that suggest U.S. District Judge Stephanie Rose is improperly prodding prosecutors to push for longer sentences.
Rose, who was a prosecutor until she was confirmed to the federal bench in Iowa nine months ago, has reportedly called on prosecutors to seek longer enhanced sentences in at least three cases. In one, she became angry when a prosecutor would not produce evidence that would enable her to jack up the sentence for a man with a former drug conviction, now facing a conviction as a felon in possession of a firearm. When prosecutors refused, citing a plea deal with the defendant, Rose exceeded the sentencing range in the plea deal by two to three years and sentenced him to eight years.
It was two hours after this sentencing that Rose sent the email calling herself the Hulk to the district’s former appellate chief Shannon Olson. Olson would have handled the appeal in this case, but she has since resigned from her post. The defendant’s attorney Bryan Holm, who is pursuing the appeal, writes in his filing:
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.
In an email to another prosecutor, Olson complained about the office’s failure to provide evidence for enhanced sentences generally, citing two other cases. Rose has defended her emails as “entirely appropriate, generic contact” in court documents. But the Code of Conduct for United States Judges does not allow communication about the substance of a case with just one party.
Federal sentencing guidelines are already severely draconian, and prosecutors are not institutionally inclined to be seeking shorter sentences. In fact, many federal judges have lamented that their hands are tied by mandatory minimum sentences that put sentencing discretion in the hands of prosecutors and inflate federal prison terms. Some have called on prosecutors to use their discretion to seek lower sentences, as Iowa’s prosecutors may be doing.