‘Easter Bunny’ listed as prosecutor in hundreds of Iowa court cases

Court clerk says issue ‘has been a nightmare’ for her

By: - April 21, 2022 12:58 pm

The Easter Bunny was representing the prosecution in several hundred Polk County criminal cases. At least that’s what Iowa Courts Online, the court system’s official, statewide web-based repository of court records, indicated. (Photo illustration by Iowa Capital Dispatch using rabbit image from Getty Images. Court documents are from Iowa Courts Online)

The Easter Bunny was representing the prosecution in several hundred Polk County criminal cases.

At least that’s what Iowa Courts Online, the court system’s official, statewide web-based repository of court records, indicated for most of April.

On April 4, the online docket sheets for hundreds of Polk County cases – primarily misdemeanors and drunken-driving cases – were revised to indicate the prosecution of those cases had been transferred from one particular assistant county attorney, Kailey Gray, to another “prosecutor” in the county attorney’s office by the name of “Easter Santa Bunny.”

And that’s where the cases remained as of Thursday morning.

Bret Lucas, an assistant county attorney, said Thursday the situation stems from a recent realignment of cases within the county attorney’s office. Gray took over a colleague’s cases, and Iowa Courts Online accurately reflects the transfer of those cases. But Gray’s old cases, he said, were “transferred” to the Easter Bunny until all of the work on the digital case transfer could be completed.

“We had contacted the Judicial Branch and they worked with their information technology department to facilitate the mass transfer of cases,” Lucas said. “Apparently, the Judicial Branch and the IT department decided to put that placeholder in there because, obviously, no one else would have that name… So they were all aware of that, and it sounds like they must still be in the middle of that transfer process.”

Stacy Curtis, a supervisor for the criminal division of the Polk County Clerk of Court’s Office, said the references to the Easter Bunny should not be visible to the public either through a name search or in the docket sheets for the individual cases. She said the office “took extra steps” to make sure members of the public didn’t see any reference to the Easter Bunny and only clerks, lawyers, judges and others with higher security clearance could see it. It appears that the opposite may have occurred, as the Easter Bunny references could be seen by members of the public who weren’t even logged into the site.

“This has been a nightmare for me,” Curtis said. “We moved everything from Kaylie to the Easter Bunny, and those should have all been cleaned up so you wouldn’t be able to see that.”

Many of the cases that were publicly “assigned” to the Easter Bunny are open, active cases, but hundreds of others are dormant, though not technically closed because of probationary sentences that have yet to be completed or fines that have yet to be paid.

The only practical effect of the Easter Bunny designation is that some defendants may see that information online and not know who to contact at the county attorney’s office about their case.

After being contacted by the Iowa Capital Dispatch on Thursday, court officials were working to erase from the website any mention of the Easter Bunny, and by late afternoon it appeared they had succeeded.

Santa bailed out by Rudolph

The Easter Bunny cases are not the only criminal matters listed on the court system’s official website to have featured nonexistent lawyers or defendants. In what appear to be training exercises for clerical staff, fictitious “test cases” are sometimes created and then posted to the public website but never removed.

For example, a December 1997 case shows Santa Claus being convicted of felony burglary and kidnapping, with a charge of assault on a peace officer dismissed by the court. The court records indicate a sentence of 999 years in prison was imposed.

As part of that same test case, the court imposed a no-contact order prohibiting Santa from having any contact with Mickey Mouse. Santa’s bail – listed as “one million bucks” in a possible punning reference to Santa’s reindeer — is stated to have been “posted by Rudolph.”

In 2014, Santa Claus was charged with second-degree robbery in Scott County, according to the Iowa Courts Online site. Although there’s no record of a conviction in that case, Claus’ right to carry a gun was revoked.

The court system’s website also shows that in 2014, Mickey Mouse filed a small claims case against Donald Duck in Marion County.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.

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