U.S. Attorney Stephanie Rose said it was bittersweet to leave her professional "home" after 16 years, but she loves new challenges and looks forward to her new life on the bench in Des Moines.
President Barack Obama signed Rose's commission Monday, and Rose, 39, became one of 72 federal judges confirmed during his administration. Rose, also the first female district judge appointed in the Southern District of Iowa, was sworn in before taking the bench, but she will have an official investiture at a later date.
Rose said it was "surreal" to see her name displayed as the U.S. Senate voted 89 to 1 on her nomination last week.
"I was home with my husband, and my daughter was there watching," she said. "My son was gone, but I made him watch it later. I was making tally marks, counting the votes to get to 51, (votes needed for confirmation).
"My dad was texting me as he and Mom were watching. He (Dad) was emailing news articles about me to every eighth cousin I have. He had a gavel made for me out of a piece of tree from the family farm in Kansas."
Rose said she felt relief when the hour and a half voting process was over.
"It's a complicated process, the entire vetting, nomination and appointment," Rose said. "It has been a long road. I was very honored when Sen. (Tom) Harkin called after the vote."
The process started last October, when Rose was recommended for the position by Harkin, who said last February that Rose is a “superb attorney and among jurists, prosecutors and the defense bar has a reputation as an extremely fair and ethical prosecutor who possesses great legal ability, intellect, and judgment.”
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Rose said she is grateful to both Harkin and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, for their support. Her nomination and confirmation wouldn't have gone through as quickly during this election year if not for the two senators working together, she said.
Rose is the last judge nominee that had a set date for confirmation. The other nominees may be delayed until after the November general election.
Rose said she was interested in being in judge, but didn't know if a federal judgeship was within her reach.
"I thought maybe someday I could start out as a magistrate and work my way up," Rose said. "Then, the U.S. Attorney's position came up. I've been here since I was 23 years old."
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Rose’s nomination unanimously by a voice vote last April, but it hit a bump when the committee had questions about her role in the 2008 immigration raid at the former Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville. The committee also asked for a review of a discrimination lawsuit claiming Rose discriminated against a 55-year-old employee in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Sioux City and other older workers.
Rose said Grassley, chair of the judiciary committee, did a "hugely kind thing" in allowing her to tell her side of the story regarding the immigration raid. She has been criticized for the fast track prosecution of more than 350 illegal workers.
Rose, an assistant U.S. attorney at the time, told the committee her role was limited in the prosecutions. She said she acted as a liaison between court, defense attorneys, probation and others. She wasn't involved in the planning of the raid, the pre-raid ratified plea agreements or the prosecutions themselves. Most of the decision-making came from the U.S. Department of Justice, which approved the fast-track prosecutions.
"There was so much misinformation out there and he allowed me to lay out the real facts," Rose said.
Grassley's staff said a bipartisan review of the discrimination lawsuit was conducted and following the review, Grassley had no objections to moving forward with a vote.
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Rose said taking on the role of judge will be an adjustment but she looks forward to the challenge. Her position as a U.S. Attorney was mostly administrative and she's eager to get back into the courtroom to hear cases and participate in the judicial process.
"As a judge, I know there is more of a weight on my shoulders but there are such great judges in the district like Judges John Jarvey and Judge (Michael) Melloy (of the Eighth Circuit) to learn from and examples to follow," Rose said.
Jarvey said he was excited to have Rose on the bench and would be happy to assist her in the transition.
"I think she brings integrity and intelligence to the bench and will do a great job," Jarvey said.
Rose said the transition may be easier for her because since she was lead prosecutor in the Northern District, she won't have the conflicts with any cases in the Southern District, which could avoid recusing herself and creating more delay in the district.
Rose said there should also be an easy transition in the U.S. Attorney's Office because Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Berry will take over in the interim.According to Harkin's staff, he will not be able to take steps to fill Rose's vacancy until after the general election.