Constitutional Law

Federal judge calls herself 'Hulk,' clashes with prosecutors over info that could extend sentences

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A former federal prosecutor now serving as a federal judge has clashed with federal prosecutors in Iowa over information she has sought in several cases that could be used to extend defendants’ sentences.

Already under appeal is a sentence in a weapons case imposed on convicted drug dealer Bryan Holm by U.S. District Judge Stephanie Rose. It was two or three times more than the sentence sought by prosecutors under a plea agreement. Rose got the information to support it by herself calling to the stand and questioning a police officer after the government declined to provide the information, the Des Moines Register reports in a lengthy article.

The judge also complained to U.S. Attorney Nicholas Klinefeldt in an email that “I’m troubled by your office’s occasional refusal to provide relevant discovery information to the United States Probation Office. I’m baffled by similar refusals to provide relevant sentencing information to me.” Specific cases she cited as a problem in that regard involved weapon-related issues.

At a sentencing for John Paul Bowers, charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, Rose said she was inclined to sentence him to more time if the feds didn’t give her more information, adding “I’m just completely baffled by the government’s position, frankly.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Debra Scorpiniti asked Rose at the hearing what authority she had, as a judge, “to require the government to produce evidence or to require the government to explain its reasons” when it decides not to present evidence, the newspaper recounts, relying on a transcript. Rose didn’t directly answer, but said she needed relevant information when imposing sentence.

At a sentencing hearing for Holm, Assistant U.S. Attorney Clifford Wendel refused to provide information sought by Rose, telling her: “It is the discretion of the United States Attorney’s Office, as part of the Executive Branch, to choose what testimony to present.”

Another federal prosecutor put on the record Rose’s contact with Kleinfeldt about the case, asking why prosecutors were refusing her information requests, the Register reports.

Rose said her emails to the U.S. Attorney’s office had been entirely appropriate and “generic.” She also called to the stand and questioned the police officer to get information she wanted before imposing sentence on Holm.

Hours afterward, Rose sent an email with the subject line “Hulk,” to a federal prosecutor who handles appeals in Iowa. The body of the email had three sentences and appeared to refer to the transcript of that day’s sentencing hearing for Holm: “You know how Bruce Banner says, ‘You won’t like me when I’m angry?’ There’s a lesson in there for all attorneys. Enjoy that transcript.”

Rose declined the newspaper’s request for comment, saying that she could not discuss pending litigation.

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