U.S. attorney candidate Rose didn't design Postville prosecutions

Lynda Waddington posted an interesting story at Iowa Independent about a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruling announced yesterday. The decision may become an issue at confirmation hearings if President Barack Obama takes Senator Tom Harkin’s advice and nominates Stephanie Rose for U.S. attorney in Iowa’s Northern District.

More on this story is after the jump.

From Waddington’s report on the Supreme Court ruling:

According to the ruling, federal prosecutors have inappropriately used aggravated identity theft laws to prosecute undocumented workers. The decision directly impacts Iowa since of the 389 workers taken during a May 2008 raid at the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville, 302 were fast-tracked with criminal charges, most related to identity theft.

The ruling, written by Justice Stephen G. Breyer, mandates a prosecutor be able to show immigrant detainees knowingly used identification that actually belonged to another person. In the case of the Postville detainees, their knowledge regarding the origin of fraudulent employment documents was not a factor, the very fact that they were using fake documents led to their quick conviction on identity theft-related charges. […]

Many believe the government effectively coerced detainees from Postville into accepting plea deals on lesser charges by pressuring them with the more lengthy and harsh sentences that could be imposed under the aggravated identity theft charges.

My immediate question was how this ruling might affect Stephanie Rose, whom Harkin has recommended for U.S. attorney in Iowa’s Northern District. The president has not yet nominated a candidate for this position. Some critics say Rose is not fit for the job because of her role in prosecuting those detained during the Postville raid (see also here).

Harkin’s office released a letter signed by 11 defense attorneys who represented Postville detainees. Excerpt:

During the process of our representation of Postville clients Stephanie Rose was the primary contact for defense attorneys. She worked incredibly long hours and exhibited a level of competence and ability that would be hard to overstate. She was there on the Cattle Congress grounds virtually around-the-clock and showed familiarity with a number of individual client circumstances when contacted by defense counsel to discuss potential plea alternatives.

She described the areas where the local U.S. Attorney’s Office was allowed to negotiate and vary from the plea proposals that had been approved at the national level. In those cases where adjustments could be made to accommodate particular circumstances, she did so in order to ensure that justice was done in each individual case.

Ms. Rose also ensured that defense counsel had complete access to their clients by acting as a buffer with Homeland Security, who were in charge of the housing and security of our clients. She further coordinated with the local jails that housed defendants to allow for maximum access by defense attorneys in order for us to provide complete representation.

Based upon our involvement in the Postville representation, it was not Stephanie Rose’s decision to conduct the Postville Raid. She was not involved in the major policy decisions that led to the raid. She did not make the decision to fast track these cases, nor did she have any part in how the individuals were to be housed. In addition, she did not make the decision regarding what charges were to be brought against these individuals. With the limited discretion that she had regarding the circumstances and particularly the plea agreements, Ms. Rose exercised her judgment admirably and very favorably to defendants.

If Obama nominates Rose, her role in the Postville prosecutions will rightly receive additional scrutiny. However, her involvement in these cases should not in my opinion automatically disqualify her from the U.S. attorney job. If the defense attorneys are correct, then Rose is not to blame for the prosecutors’ strategy that the Supreme Court struck down rejected yesterday.

I’m interested in other Bleeding Heartland readers’ opinions about this matter.

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