Saturday, April 12, 2008

The President: Inside Story of a Pardon, and the Process

A recent article in the Spokesman Review (Spokane, WA) discussed the story of Pharmacist William L. Baker who was sentenced to two years in prison in 1980 for improperly refilling prescriptions (or, more specifically, refilling prescriptions for regular customers without first contacting the prescribing physician). Only 3 of the original 14 charges against him remained when a plea bargain was struck. Last month, the 69-year-old Baker, now a practicing attorney, was pardoned by President Bush. Baker filed his application back in 2002, "for the hell of it," just after graduating from Gonzaga Law School, whose Dean felt as though a "hanging" judge had given him a "raw deal." Baker passed the bar and persuaded the state bar association to grant him a law license.

Last year, during the review process, the Justice Department solicited comments from the U.S. District Court in Cheyenne. The problem was that no one remembered Baker's case. And the judge who sentenced him declined comment. Before sentencing, the judge had written a letter which said, "When I first went on the Bench I decided that cases involving illegal sales of drugs would not be treated leniently, and I have attempted to be consistent in sentences so that the drug pusher receives a jail sentence regardless of his high or his low position." At the sentencing hearing, the judge told Baker, "Your case is a little higher class - but you're going to prison, too."

The FBI was able to interview Baker's associates and neighbors and checked his tax returns, criminal history and credit. When he heard nothing back for months, Baker wrote the Office of the Pardon Attorney and asked if needed more information. On March 25, 2008, the acting pardon attorney, called him to report that the White House had just announced his pardon. The Justice Department gave no reasons for the pardon and Baker says he hasn't been told why he was selected.

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