RYAN J. FOLEY
---- — IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — When she was the top federal prosecutor in northern Iowa, U.S. District Judge Stephanie Rose secretly monitored the whereabouts of employees who she felt didn't work enough, removed the office's civil chief because she believed he was a poor manager and fired an attorney whom she called "flighty," records show.
Rose, based in Des Moines and the nation's youngest federal judge at 40, made those statements during a May deposition in a lawsuit brought by former assistant U.S. Attorney Martha Fagg, a civil prosecutor who was fired by Rose in 2011.
Fagg, 56, contends Rose and Rose's then-top aide, Teresa Baumann, retaliated against her after Fagg raised concerns about age discrimination, destroying her 12-year career with the department. She was fired shortly after selling her house to complete an unusual, forced transfer from Sioux City to Cedar Rapids, 265 miles away. Fagg claims she faced intense micromanagement that made it almost impossible to work and ruined her health.
"I couldn't think. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't eat. I wasn't myself," Fagg testified.
The Department of Justice released excerpts of depositions and other documents last week with a court filing arguing that Fagg's lawsuit should be dismissed. The filing called Fagg's firing justified, saying she had attendance, behavior and performance problems.
The records paint an unflattering picture of the Cedar Rapids-based U.S. Attorney's Office during Rose's tenure, which started in 2009 after her appointment by President Barack Obama. Rose, a criminal prosecutor in the office, started with a strikingly dim view of the civil division, which represents the government in mostly low-key matters ranging from Postal Service accidents to Social Security cases.
Rose said she had a "long list" of gripes with Larry Kudej, who had overseen the division for years with positive performance evaluations. She said his subordinates often weren't at work, that Kudej did not resolve personnel and conduct issues and was generally regarded as a bad manager. She replaced him with then-Iowa Department of Transportation lawyer Baumann, 35.
Kudej didn't return a phone message. In a deposition, Kudej said Rose offered him another spot on her management team that he declined.
Rose and Baumann testified that they pulled security badge data to check on the arrival times of at least five government lawyers and employees that Rose said she had reason to believe were not always working full days. In some cases, they pulled data showing when employees were logged into their computers.
Such monitoring is legal, but Fagg's attorneys have questioned whether it was used to unfairly scrutinize disfavored employees. Rose and Baumann declined comment Tuesday through a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago, which is defending the Department of Justice against Fagg's lawsuit.
Rose identified the employees who faced monitoring as Fagg and fellow assistant U.S. attorneys Martin McLaughlin, Stephanie Wright, and Dan Tvedt, and former legal assistant Christy White.
Shortly after their names were released, a Department of Justice lawyer said in a filing last week that it was a mistake to identify employees who were "subject to internal scrutiny and personnel actions" and asked a judge to remove their identities to protect their privacy rights. Another government filing seeks to remove a reference to an unidentified prosecutor who was disciplined after being caught with pornography on a government-issued Blackberry.
A judge hasn't ruled on the requests.
Rose and Baumann testified that the employees generally were not told they were monitored. If they were gone during work, Rose said she would either ensure they had taken leave or dock their pay if they hadn't. She said all employees but Fagg and White stopped having issues and didn't face discipline.
Rose said she had problems with White's "attendance and tardiness" for years and that White resigned rather than face termination.
Baumann testified the employees were singled out because they "would be seen walking down the street at 3:00 in the afternoon getting a cup of coffee, or not coming back to the office after lunch, or taking a two- or three-hour lunch break."
Rose said Fagg was targeted because other employees had told her she was "not at work when she was supposed to be there, and she was flighty when she was there." Rose testified that assistant U.S. Attorney Pete Deegan talked about Fagg "being crazy." Deegan declined comment.
The situation intensified after Fagg emailed Rose in March 2011, saying that Rose's removal of the 60-year-old Kudej as civil chief and other rumored changes in the civil division could be viewed as age discrimination.
Rose testified that she believed Fagg was setting up the department for a lawsuit. Rose soon ordered for Fagg to be transferred temporarily to Cedar Rapids in what she called an attempt to monitor and improve her performance. She later made the transfer permanent.
After months of disputes, Fagg was fired shortly after angrily accusing Baumann of removing her from a multimillion dollar fraud case, records show. "Forget it! It's like talking to a rock," Fagg told her. She added that she doesn't hate Baumann and Rose, she feels sorry for them because, "you're mean," records show.
Fagg's lawyer, Michael Carroll, said he would resist the government's motion to dismiss, saying there's more to the story.
"She feels like her career and her life as she knew it were over when this all happened," he said. "It's been brutal for her."
AP reporter Ryan J. Foley can be reached at 319-337-5615, firstname.lastname@example.org or http://twitter.com/rjfoley