Saturday, April 18, 2015

Michigan: The Politics of Parole, Pardon

Gov. Rick Snyder
Brian Dickerson of Detroit Free Press does some very fine reporting on a case we discussed last month - Governor Rick Snyder's pardon of Alan Gocha, a recent offender, who also happened to be a former political appointee and acquaintance. The story of the pardon was further colorized by the fact that Snyder is fairly stingy with pardons, the offense was committed not very long ago and the application was supported by "connected" persons. See our previous coverage and commentary here.

Governer Snyder, at first, attempted to appear "puzzled" that anyone would care about such a thing but, as Dickerson notes, he also argued Gocha "never contributed" to his campaign and did not have "any financial connection at all," He also emphasized the pardon was signed on the recommendation of the Michigan Parole Board.

Dickerson's complaint is that the Governor could have been more "candid." He could have, for example,
... pointed out, for instance, that while neither Gocha nor Bhargava have contributed directly to Snyder's campaigns, both men have donated generously to third-party organizations that helped bankroll Snyder's re-election. 
In his own communications with the Associated Press on this story, the Editor of this blog wondered who the members of the Board were, and how they got there. Dickerson, however, did the leg work and found:
... each of the 10 parole board members who recommended a pardon for Gocha were political appointees installed in 2011, after Snyder abolished the existing parole board (then known as the Parole and Commutation Board) and dismissed all 15 of its members. (Just three of the 15 sit on the reorganized Parole Board.) 
A state Court of Claims dismissed a lawsuit filed by six members Snyder dismissed before their terms of office had expired. Dickerson notes an Ingham County Circuit Court "issued a summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, ruling that although Snyder had the authority to abolish their positions, he was bound to honor their $89,000-a-year employment contracts until they expired."  But Republican legislators transferred "jurisdiction over lawsuits against the executive branch to a new Court of Claims appointed by the Republican-controlled state Supreme Court" and the decision was reversed. Says Dickerson:
The point is not that a gaggle of friendly judges have abetted Snyder's effort to hijack a historically independent parole board, but that the board has always (or, at least in recent decades) been a political instrument beholden to whomever happens to be governor. Granholm put an exclamation point on that authority in her second term when she issued an executive order moving the appointment of parole board members from the Department of Corrections (whose director serves at the governor's pleasure) to the governor's office. Snyder's subsequent executive order reduced the parole board to its previous size and returned responsibility for appointing its members to his DOC director. But it's foolish to suggest that the director, or the parole board members he appoints, are either ignorant of, or insensitive to, the current governor's druthers when they refuse a controversial application for parole or recommend the pardon of a gubernatorial friend. 
The piece ends by noting "Gocha's pardon is one of just 11 Snyder has granted after reviewing 750 applications." See full story here.

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