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A 'Judge Smash' in Sentencing Dispute With Prosecutors

It's not unusual for judges and prosecutors to fail to see eye-to-eye on criminal sentencing issues. But it might just be a first for a federal judge to send an email comparing herself to a comic book character known for morphing into a large, green, superhuman "Hulk," and warn lawyers in the U.S. Attorney's Office, "You won't like me when I'm angry." The email has, not surprisingly, garnered some interest -- as has the resignation of the prosecutor who received it.

The Des Moines Register (via the Sentencing Law and Policy blog and ABA Journal) has the story of the clash between U.S. District Judge Stephanie Rose and prosecutors in the Southern District of Iowa U.S. Attorney's Office over sentencing in several criminal cases. Rose, who was confirmed as a federal judge last September in a U.S. Senate vote of 89-1, is the country's youngest federal judge at 40 years old. She had been a longtime federal prosecutor and served as the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa before her appointment to the bench.

The Des Moines Register reviewed recently unsealed emails sent between Rose and federal prosecutors concerning the case of a convicted drug dealer named Bryan Holm. In that case, the Register reports, "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."

Several hours after the sentencing hearing, Rose sent an email to Shannon Olson, the appellate chief at the U.S. Attorney's Office. The message, which had the subject line "Hulk," read: "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."

Along with reports on the email, news broke this week of Olson's resignation from the U.S. Attorney's Office. The Des Moines Register reported Thursday that a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office confirmed that Olson no longer works for the office but declined to discuss the circumstances of her departure.

In court documents related to an appeal of Holm's sentence, Holm's attorney Dean Stowers suggests that the "Hulk" email might have been related to Olson's potential role as a witness in an age discrimination suit brought by a former assistant U.S. attorney, as well as to a clash over sentencing in several cases.

The Des Moines Register writes that Rose has been at odds with the U.S. Attorney's Office in several other criminal cases as well, and that she corresponded by email in January with U.S. Attorney Nicholas Klinefeldt to express her frustration with what she called "global issues" with prosecutors' actions.

“I'm troubled by your office's occasional refusal to provide relevant discovery information to the United States Probation Office," Rose wrote to Klinefeldt. "I'm baffled by similar refusals to provide relevant sentencing information to me." She cited several criminal cases in which she said prosecutors refused to provide evidence that could have increased defendants' sentences.

In the filing regarding Holm's case, Stowers writes that the "Hulk" email "has to be construed as a strong caution to Olson and her prosecutor colleagues to not do something that would make the Court 'angry' because that would cause the Court to react like the 'Hulk'. One can fairly assume the Court was not intending physical assault or destruction of property, but was alluding to the use of the Court's judicial power against those that made the Court 'angry'."

Stowers argues that the email "suggests the Court was acting out of anger in the Holm sentencing and that the anger displayed itself in the Court's actions during the sentencing. It appears Mr. Holm is a victim of crossfire between the Court and the Government."

Posted by Laurel Newby on June 7, 2013 at 04:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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