Assistant Clayton County Attorney named Iowa DNR Prosecutor of the Year

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Assistant Clayton County Attorney Anne Kruse was recently named 2023 Iowa DNR Prosecutor of the Year, an award bestowed by the Iowa DNR’s Law Enforcement Bureau to the state’s most supportive, aggressive, proactive and professional prosecutor. Presenting the award were nominating conservation officer Dakota Drish and conservation officer Travis Graves. (Submitted photo)

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register


Assistant Clayton County Attorney Anne Kruse was recently named 2023 Iowa DNR Prosecutor of the Year, an award bestowed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ Law Enforcement Bureau to the state’s most supportive, aggressive, proactive and professional prosecutor.


Kruse was presented the award at the annual Iowa County Attorney Conference by nominating state conservation officer Dakota Drish. Although assigned to Buchanan and Delaware counties, Drish works in Clayton County on occasion, where he’s had the opportunity to partner with Kruse and the Clayton County Attorney’s Office.


“Because of Anne, the Clayton County Attorney’s Office has had an extraordinary impact on helping the Iowa DNR’s Law Enforcement Bureau fulfill its mission in Clayton County and other counties alike. At the Clayton County Attorney’s Office, Anne has gone the extra mile on multiple occasions to achieve success by always striving to find the truth, to seek justice and to provide quality criminal prosecutions, which certainly has aided in DNR related crime prevention throughout the state of Iowa,” Drish shared.


In recent years, Kruse said she has worked on more DNR-related cases. This includes prosecuting hunting related investigations that have resulted in convictions for unlawfully taking whitetail deer as well as intentional interference with lawful hunting activities.


“It was someone who seemed to think it was their area of the world and other people shouldn’t be hunting there. Nobody was trespassing,” Kruse recalled of the latter. “He was on his property and doing things like dancing around and throwing sticks. I’ve got videos of this guy putting on quite a performance. That was a two-day trial.”


Another recent area of focus has been unlawfully taking American ginseng. On one occasion alone, Kruse prosecuted a case where 454 charges were filed against two defendants for unlawful ginseng related activities, with a potential criminal fine amount of $89,600 along with available jail time authorized by statute.


“This case also had a considerable amount of civil damages that were authorized and available to the state of Iowa at the end of the convictions, as well as several seizures and condemnations,” Drish said.


Whereas most people cited with a DNR violation frequently pay the fine and move on, Kruse said ginseng is a high dollar industry.


“Some people make a lot of money off it,” she explained, “so there’s incentive for them to skirt the laws on that, and the DNR has been more invested in pursuing some of these long-term offenders and making sure they are held accountable.”


The case resulted in a plea agreement after the county attorney’s office wore down the defendants, according to Kruse. The defense attorney initially balked at the idea she would take a DNR case to a jury trial.


“The defense seemed to think a jury would not be very sympathetic to DNR agents, that if you got yourself a couple hunters on the jury, that they would be sympathetic toward the defendant by thinking, ‘Oh, those DNR agents are just out to get us.’ I didn’t think so,” Kruse said. “I think people in our area appreciate our natural resources in a way this defense attorney didn’t expect.”


Kruse was prepared to state why the ginseng plant is important by comparing it to bald eagles. Both are protected species.


Ginseng takes at least seven years to develop in the wild, and the wild form is more valuable than a cultivated plant. Even those who plant ginseng on their own property must have a license to harvest it.


“While that doesn’t have the glamour the bald eagle has, it’s important to maintain,” Kruse said, “especially these days, when we’re so concerned about people from China buying up farm ground. The largest market for ginseng is China. These guys harvest the ginseng and there’s a system of brokers and dealers, if you do it right. Quite a bit of the ginseng gets sold to China, and for pretty high dollars. So you have that aspect of a foreign country involved in our trade here.”


“It’s not just paperwork and nitpickers at the DNR trying to be fun haters when you’re trying to make a few bucks harvesting a plant,” she added.


In addition to this, Kruse has assisted the Iowa DNR with a sensitive investigation surrounding an officer who committed fish and wildlife crimes.


These prosecutions were difficult and carried the potential for controversy for Kruse, however, “without fear or favor, she professionally led the way through these prosecutions and led them to successful resolutions,” Drish said.


Kruse took on her first DNR case—for an undersized fish—in 1991, as an intern in the Linn County Attorney’s Office, but she acknowledged her steepest learning curve is often in this subject area.


“They are very technical cases. It’s not as intuitive as an assault, where some guy hits another guy without proper cause,” she explained. “On the spot, I’m learning things like, if you have a blind, you have to have blaze orange viewable from 360 degrees, and it has to be 144 square inches of orange. Or having to learn what a meandering stream is.”


A meandering stream, she said, is not just one that tends to move outside its banks and change its course. The bodies of water are designated in the Iowa code.


Meandering streams often come into play in Clayton County when individuals are fishing.


“Meandering streams determine who owns the river banks, and that gets to be kind of dicey,” Kruse said. “If somebody is floating down the Volga, then the law determines whether you can get out just on any river bank and start to fish from the river bank or if you have to stay in the water. When you get a hard case who keeps showing up in that spot and bothering the property owner, that’s when we get called up.”


“We try to do mostly education with things like that. Because who knows?” she quipped.


Although DNR violations are simple misdemeanors, Drish credited Kruse for prosecuting the offenses with the same dedication, passion and extreme professionalism as all her cases.


“To top it off, Anne is pleasant to converse with, she is thorough, and she pays close attention to detail, which aids in successful prosecutions, successful working relationships and efficient production, which inevitably increases confidence for the victims of crime moving forward. I am grateful to have the opportunity to work with her and the rest of the Clayton County Attorney’s Office on law enforcement related matters,” he said.


Clayton County Attorney Zach Herrmann was equally complimentary.


“Like most less-populated rural counties, our county attorney’s office is pretty small, with just myself and Anne tasked with performing all of the various duties. As a result, Anne wears many hats, and she wears them all well. This award is a testament to how seriously she takes each of her roles, as the cases involving the DNR are simple misdemeanors in magistrate court. Anne gives each case her all, and it’s great to see her work recognized on a state-wide level,” Herrmann shared.


Kruse is happy to do it.


“They are important cases,” she stressed.


The award, which was a surprise to Kruse, was even more meaningful because she is able to work with a team to resolve cases.


“In victim cases, you can get a lot of feedback from the victim or the family, but a lot of what I do as a prosecutor, you don’t get a lot of warm fuzzies. Most people are not really happy to see me,” she said. “Having law enforcement appreciate what I’m trying to do for them, that’s one of the positives about being a prosecutor: you really do work as a team with law enforcement. It’s neat to be recognized as a member of the team.”

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