Monday, June 23, 2008

Illinois: Waiting on the Governor

The Chicago Tribune is commenting on the inaction of Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), the same inaction that has attracted the attention of a federal district court judge. It is reported that Marlon Pendleton was cleared of rape by DNA evidence and released from prison two years ago, but he is still waiting on a pardon and $140,000 in compensation. The Tribune reports there are about 1,600 others who have been "waiting for months and even years" for clemency decisions. PardonPower credits the Tribune for taking the time to find a real expert on pardons:
Since taking office in 2003, the governor has pardoned 67 people and denied 1,160 clemency petitions. But in more than a year, he has announced a decision on only one petition, rejecting that clemency request."I don't understand why [the governor] doesn't just deal with the cases," said Margaret Love, former head of the pardon office at the U.S. Department of Justice. "I don't know of any other governor that has a backlog like this." The delay has led a dozen convicted felons to file a federal lawsuit alleging Blagojevich is taking too long to make pardon decisions.
In a significant decision (here), U.S. District Judge Joan Gottschall ruled that the Governor can make any decision that he likes on pardon requests, but the State's clemency statute requires that the governor "make some decision within a reasonable period of time." Lawyers for the Governor are taking the position that he can "exercise his power of clemency in any manner he deems appropriate, including considering a petition for a period of time that others may considerable unreasonable." PardonPower related to the Tribune writer, in an interview for this story that took place weeks ago, that the district court's decision appears "to be one of the nation's first to address the swiftness of executive-clemency decisions and could have wider impact than in just Illinois if upheld on appeal."

The article also notes:
Critics contend Blagojevich has largely ignored the recommendations of the Prisoner Review Board, which scrutinizes the petitions.The chairman of the review board recently said half of the petitions received each quarter are "slam-dunk" yes-or-no decisions."Unless you are processing out [these petitions] every quarter, you are going to get a backlog," said Arvin Boddie, a member of the review board from 2000 to 2004. "I think you've got an unprecedented number of applications that have backed up."Boddie, who was appointed by former Gov. George Ryan and served briefly under Blagojevich, said Ryan made pardon decisions on a routine basis."These are some of the important decisions that get made that have a direct impact on the lives of real people," he said.
Of course, the governor's office maintains that the number of petitions has sharply increased since Blagojevich succeeded Ryan. See story here.

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