Blog: And Now You Have The Rest Of The Story...
May 28, 2015
We expect what we read in the newspaper to be based on the facts. Sometimes that’s the case and other times it clearly isn’t. Recently the Des Moines Register published an opinion piece titled “Woman Went to Prison for a $20 Theft”. It sounded like a pretty harsh judgment. At least that’s how the general reader was led to interpret the headline and the article that followed. But there is more to this story. Columnist Omitted Facts to see how Cynthia Moser, Attorney, Heidman Law Firm, helps us understand the judge’s decision in light of the woman’s criminal history. She definitely tells the rest of the story.
This blog post is authored by Cynthia Moser and meant for informational purposes only. It is not meant to provide legal advice in any particular circumstance or factual situation. You should consult with an attorney prior to taking any action regarding the information contained herein.
Des Moines Register: Opinion: Basu column on woman’s sentencing omitted facts
As a lifelong Iowan, a practicing lawyer since 1977, a former law clerk to a federal judge, and past president of the Iowa State Bar Association, I have a deep commitment to maintaining the integrity of Iowa’s courts. That’s why I took a leading role in defending our Supreme Court from unfounded criticism during the 2012 retention election. That’s why I agreed to chair the committee appointed by Sen. Chuck Grassley that recommended the nomination of U.S. Magistrate Judge Leonard Strand and Polk County District Judge Rebecca Ebinger for federal judgeships in Iowa. And that’s why I was dismayed to read the thinly veiled attack on Judge Ebinger in Rekha Basu’s May 17 column (“Woman went to prison for $20 theft”).
The column contains numerous factual errors and conveniently omits other relevant facts. Because judges are not in a position to defend themselves when they are unfairly attacked, I feel compelled to respond and correct the record.
While the article paints a sympathetic picture of Rhonda Dudley, it fails to tell the whole story. According to public records, in 2010 Dudley was charged with multiple felonies related to forged prescriptions for a controlled substance. She pled guilty and Judge D.J. Stovall sentenced her to two consecutive 10-year sentences (meaning a total of 20 years) due to the “seriousness of the offenses.” Judge Stovall nevertheless gave Dudley a second chance; he suspended the sentence and placed her on probation for five years.
Two years later, Dudley was charged with 4th degree theft and possession of drugs. Judge Michael Huppert gave her a third chance by deciding not to revoke her probation and impose the 20-year sentence. Instead, he gave her a warning shot: 80 days in jail for contempt of court.
Two years later, and after serving the jail time, Dudley committed the theft described in the column.
Judge Ebinger was assigned to preside over Dudley’s probation violation hearing on Oct. 6, 2014. While the article contends that “no one from the public defender’s office represented her in court,” in fact Dudley was represented by a court-appointed lawyer. At the outset of the hearing, Dudley admitted that she violated the terms of her probation by committing another criminal offense and failing to contact her probation officer as required. She later confirmed under oath that she stole a headband from Claire’s and stated “it was stupid.”
The prosecutor argued that in light of Dudley’s continued criminal history and repeated probation violations, probation should be revoked and the original 20-year sentence handed down by Judge Stovall be imposed. Dudley’s attorney argued for a continuation of her probation and a short period of jail time for contempt. At that point, Judge Ebinger had three options: She could impose Judge Stovall’s original 20-year sentence; she could again find Dudley in contempt of court (although the previous contempt citation hadn’t deterred Dudley from committing another crime); or she could impose a revised sentence. Judge Ebinger chose the third option. She revoked Dudley’s probation, but effectively cut the original sentence in half by ordering her to serve the two 10-year terms concurrently (meaning 10 years total). Dudley was released from prison after serving 4½ months of the sentence handed down by Judge Ebinger.
A review of the transcript of Dudley’s hearing leaves no doubt that Judge Ebinger treated Dudley with respect throughout the proceeding. Contrary to Dudley’s reported statement that Judge Ebinger cut her off when she tried to speak, the record confirms that after listening to the testimony offered by Dudley’s attorney and the arguments of counsel for Dudley and the State, Judge Ebinger invited Dudley to speak directly to the Court. Dudley offered a brief apology. At no time did Judge Ebinger say to Dudley, “It’s time for you to go to prison.” Judge Ebinger concluded the hearing by stating “Ms. Dudley, I wish you the best moving forward.”
The column criticizes Judge Ebinger for being reversed on appeal in other cases. First, every judge gets reversed. Second, the column gets the facts wrong again. It cites a Court of Appeals ruling in a recent juvenile case and states that “the court noted she [Judge Ebinger] hadn’t allowed the defendant to speak about his progress.” The case was State v. McLachlan, and the court’s reference was to another district court judge who handled an earlier sentencing proceeding, not Judge Ebinger. Public documents show that.
Quoting Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” Basu expressed her opinion, but did so without the benefit of all the facts.