The career path of a U.S. attorney and nominee for federal judge could have taken a much different course if she had followed her early passions for music and journalism.
When Stephanie Rose told her parents she was going into law, they were surprised at first. She was the girl who sang and danced, played the piano and oboe, majored in sociology and loved to write.
But Rose said she started looking at a law career because of her childhood experience growing up with foster siblings. Rose’s mother and father were foster parents, and one of the children in their custody had to go through a painful parental termination because her biological mother, who was in and out of jail, fought the proceeding.
Through the appeal process, the Iowa Supreme Court terminated the mother’s rights, changing children’s rights in Iowa and allowing the girl to be adopted into a permanent home.
That showed Rose how the law can change people’s lives.
Acclaimed in field
“Fairness,” above all else, is the one word judges, prosecutors and even defense attorneys, who have been adversaries of Rose over the years, kept mentioning last week to describe her. They said she is a good choice for the federal bench because she’s extremely intelligent, hardworking, compassionate, humble, open-minded and forthright.
President Barack Obama nominated Rose two weeks ago to become the next federal judge in the Southern District of Iowa when U.S. District Chief Judge Robert Pratt retires July 1.
Rose, 39, of Center Point, has worked in the U.S. Attorney’s Office since graduating from law school, one of the youngest hired at the time. She worked her way up to the top spot in 2009, prosecuting more than 800 felony cases. She was lead prosecutor on 260 of those cases and has handled another 45 civil cases and 34 appeals.
Assistant Johnson County Attorney Andy Chappell, who has been friends with Rose since law school, said it’s difficult to “imagine anybody more deserving.” Rose is bright, straightforward and incapable of pretense, he said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney C.J. Williams said Rose’s ability to quickly comprehend complex issues has helped her succeed. She received recognition and awards for prosecuting two complicated cases involving Internet pharmaceutical companies, where doctors were prescribing pills online to patients they never treated, he said.
The six-year case spanned many states and required the review of hundreds of documents. Some may have not pursued it, Williams said, but the challenge never deterred Rose.
Her determination paid off. The case ended with 26 convictions in this district, more than $7 million in forfeitures and more than $4 million that went to agencies in Dubuque, Cedar Rapids and Des Moines.
“She is very skilled,” said U.S. District Judge Mark Bennett, who presided over Rose’s first jury trial. “She learns from any mistakes and doesn’t repeat them. She doesn’t have a personal agenda. She goes by the law.”
U.S. District Judge John Jarvey of the Southern District said her prosecution record is impressive for her age because not all federal judges have that kind of experience, especially in criminal law.
“Stephanie has won the respect of prosecutors and defense lawyers,” Jarvey said.
Respect from defense
Steve Swift is one of the defense attorneys who say she has earned a good reputation among the defense bar. He joined a dozen other defense attorneys who supported Rose for her U.S. attorney nomination. They said she was fair and went by the law in handling the controversial prosecution of more than 380 illegal immigrants charged in the 2008 Agriprocessors raid.
“She’s not politically connected, not active in a party … this is based on merit,” he said. “She’s a great advocate for the government, very forthright — no shenanigans.”
Leon Spies, a defense attorney, said Rose has always been interested in seeing that “justice is accomplished.” It’s more important for her to “get it right than to win,” he said.
Spies, also the president of the Academy of Trial Lawyers, nominated Rose to the academy in 2008 because she exhibited what the organization strives for — the “highest quality of trial advocacy and ethical responsibilities to clients and the law.”
“It’s a quite an honor to be nominated,” said David Brown, a Des Moines attorney and secretary/treasurer of the academy. “There are over 8,000 lawyers in Iowa and there are only 250 members. There are less prosecutors and less women, but not by design.”
Rose is one of 15 women in the academy.
Sen. Tom Harkin said all those qualities are why he recommended Rose for the U.S. attorney job and for the federal bench.
“I was enthralled by her at the interview,” Harkin said. “She has such a presence and such eloquence … without the window dressing,” he said laughing. “She’s genuine and sincere.”
Harkin said he doesn’t foresee any problems with her being confirmed. More than 80 percent of President Barack Obama’s nominees have been confirmed so far.
Carl Tobias of the University of Richmond School of Law in Richmond, Va., who analyzes the judiciary, said it’s in Rose’s favor that she has been through a previous confirmation because it could go more quickly.
“It’s kind of murky right now with the presidential election,” he said. “The confirmation process could slow down and even stop until after the convention. It’s good that she has home state support from Sen. Chuck Grassley, who’s on the Senate Judiciary Committee, but there are 21 others (federal judge nominees) ahead of her.”
However, Tobias didn’t rule out the chance that Rose could be confirmed in time to take the bench in July.
1996: Graduation from the University of Iowa College of Law
1996: Law clerk with Bradley & Riley P.C. in Cedar Rapids
1996: U.S. Attorney’s Office
1997-99: Iowa assistant attorney general designated as special assistant U.S. attorney
1999-2008: Assistant U.S. attorney
2008-09: Deputy criminal chief
2009-present: U.S. attorney for Iowa’s Northern District
February: Nominated as federal judge in Iowa’s Southern District (pending confirmation)