Saturday, January 16, 2016

U.S. Pardon Attorney: Does It Even Matter?

As President Obama goes on the hunt for a new U.S. Pardon Attorney (something he should have done at the beginning of his presidency - instead of simply retaining Ronald L. Rodgers, George W. Bush's appointee), many wonder what impact the abrupt resignation of Deborah Leff will have on the already lame clemency record of this administration.

Underlying many discussions / speculations in the days to the come will be the implicit assumption that it matters who the U.S. Pardon Attorney is. While that assumption is one that deserves empirical testing (as opposed to mere repetition) we wish to assert that we agree that it does matter who the U.S. Pardon Attorney is ... or, at least it can matter, and a very great deal. Not in terms of ultimate exercise of the pardon power, of course. We all understand that the power belongs, ultimately, to one person, Barack Obama. 

But that does not eliminate the possibility that the U.S. Pardon Attorney can 1) be an honest, reliable advocate for applicants 2) can manage the Office of the Pardon Attorney in such a manner that applications are considered seriously, fairly and in a timely fashion and 3) can make recommendations in accordance with the notions and demands of justice to the Deputy Attorney General and the President. History abounds with examples of Pardon Attorneys who interpreted laws and utilized exceptions to the advantage, or detriment, of clemency applicants. They have very often stood their ground and argued persuasively, both for and against clemency applications, with federal prosecutors, judges, attorneys general and presidents. There is no reason whatsoever that the U.S. Pardon Attorney should be an aggregate blob of gray goo.

In contrast, a former U.S. Pardon Attorney has asserted publicly that, generally speaking, it just doesn't really matter who serves in the position of U.S. Pardon Attorney. It's all about the president and the bureaucrats above. More tellingly, she asserted, “I knew what the boss wanted, and wasn't about to send him a lot of reports he would only throw back at me." Indeed. Pardons and commutations almost disappeared from the radar during her tenure (Bill Clinton's last-minute splurge providing a notable "break").

We urge President Obama to explicitly reject the anticipatory rubber-stamp bureaucrat model for the position of U.S. Pardon Attorney. We urge him to appoint a strong, clear-headed, independent minded, knowledgeable, experienced person for the position - a person who also has a demonstrable interest in advocating for justice and mercy, not just a person who wants (or is content) to be almost invisibly nested in the DOJ. The President - this president especially - clearly needs a person who will boldly recommend clemency, routinely, out of a finely tuned sense that that is what the job is all about in the first place. The clearly stated policy goals of the president should play a role in the process, but should hardly be impacting individual consideration / assessment and forwarding (or not forwarding) of applications.

Presidents don't read clemency applications. U.S. Pardon Attorneys do. 

If a nominee cannot be an advocate for applicants, he/she should not be the U.S. Pardon Attorney, or anywhere near the Office of the Pardon Attorney for that matter. 


Anonymous said...

As a person who had there pardon rejected here is a view. My pardon was twice sent to the assistant attorney general for signature, which I was informed meant for approval and was sent back tot the Pardon Attorney until the letter was changed to recommendation for denial. When I decided to apply I believed I was applying for a Presidential pardon. Make no mistake being the Pardon Attorney and doing the job assigned has no rewards, in the end political view will prevail from above. I believed this President would have understanding, forgiveness,compassion and the back bone to change a very flawed process. It took five long years for this process, and ended sadly. Our leaders need to spend time understanding what our religions teach us about forgiveness and understanding for each other.

Patrick Smith said...

You said it right, A US pardon attorney should has high integrity on his background, this are "appoint a strong, clear-headed, independent minded, knowledgeable, experienced person for the position - a person who also has a demonstrable interest in advocating for justice and mercy." you has a point in there. This is very high standard post that Pres. Obama must to re-think.

Amyray007 said...

Well stated P.S. but as you clearly know this conflict of interest will never get fixed until they sever the Office of Pardon Attorney from the talons of DOJ. When six of us were asked to weigh in by the NYTs almost one year ago today (Jan 26th) I began by stating:
For starters, the Pardon Office should not answer to the Department of Justice. It’s a conflict of interest for Justice to act as gatekeeper over the very cases they prosecuted, especially when and if malfeasance occurred by an overzealous prosecutor. But since this will likely never change, my bigger concern is with who deserves pardons.

And I was pleased to see the NYTs Editorial reiterating this the other day - many prosecutors engaged in misconduct in the 90s and they know where all the bodies are buried (so to speak) There are certain people who will never get out if OPA is going to allow DOJ to have the last word. Imagine if people on Death row who have been exonerated in the 11th hour had to rely on their prosecutor to "do the right thing" They'd be dead!!!

Anonymous said...

How did you did you know it was sent to the Deputy Attorney General ? Just curious as why it was sent up twice ? What did the Attorney General see that the Pardon Attorney did not ?

Anonymous said...

Freedom of Information Act is where you can get all the information of the correspondence that is not redacted for your file. I also hired formal Pardon Attorney Margaret Love to review the documents to understand why I was denied. The then pardon attorney Ron Rodgers must have felt I had a good case and gave it two tries. The paper trail tells the story. It is all very sad! For all the bad criticizes Ron Rodgers has received I did not have that experience, in my case he was a very descent person in all the correspondence I had with him and the office. It has now been 8 years since I first started the process, just can not get over the denial. Am going to try again when we get a new President. Just a final note, Mr Ruckman, Jr. provides a great format to discuss our interests.

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