Showing posts with label Minnesota. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Minnesota. Show all posts

Friday, November 20, 2015

Minnesota: Inside Look at Pardoning

Briana Bierschbach of has a fantastic story on the pardon process in the State. It notes that the Minnesota Board of Pardons has the power to "effectively clear someone’s criminal record" even though it does not hold "official judicial proceeding[s]," It is composed of the State's attorney general, the chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court and the governor. Although the Board can commute sentences, it usually grants “pardon extraordinaries” which "legally absolv[e] citizens of their crimes after they’ve served their time and shown demonstrable rehabilitation." Bierschbach notes:
Over the last century, the state of Minnesota has gone from generously granting pardons to criminals to a system that only occasionally grants forgiveness ... While the board used to pardon people regularly for crimes like sexual and physical assault — even murder — today someone seeking clemency for disorderly conduct or theft might not receive an official pardon. And Minnesota’s unique, three-person system sets a high bar: The vote to pardon someone must be unanimous
The piece also notes that the Board meets only twice a year and:
Violent offenders must wait 10 years after their sentence has expired to be eligible for a pardon extraordinary, and even after that wait, violent offenses are rarely granted clemency from the Board of Pardons. From 1992 to 2012, about 82 percent of pardon extraordinaries granted by the board were for nonviolent crimes, according to data from the Department of Corrections. 
The story goes on to provide some interesting detail on a couple of applications and is excellent reading, Give it a look in its entirety here.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Gov. Robert Ehrlich's "Observations on the Exercise of Clemency"

Blogging live from St. Thomas School of Law, Commutations Symposium, Keynote Speaker, former Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich

1. Clemency will test / stress friendships.
2. Inappropriate contact may occur, and must be resisted.
3. Staff will be tested.
4. Your political courage quotient will be tested (will be criticized from the right and the left)
5. There is a fiscal impact to clemency.
6. Stay away from race, ethnicity and gender (even if the press keeps score).
7. Leadership is about making decisions, but also making decisions that you think are right, regardless of the consequences, support, or lack of support.
8. Clemency decisions say a lot about a politician's character, what they are really about.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

University of St. Thomas, Spring Symposium, Friday, April 20, 2012


8:15 a.m. Registration and Continental Breakfast: Schulze Grand Atrium
8:30 a.m. Welcome
Marc Spooner, Editor-in-Chief, St. Thomas Law Journal

8:45 a.m. The Executive Pardon Power: Past and Present

P.S. Ruckman Jr., and Rock Valley College
The Study of Mercy: What Political Scientists Know (and Don’t Know) About the Pardon Power

Jeffrey Crouch, American University
The President's Power to Commute: Is it Still Relevant?

David Zlotnick, Roger Williams University School of Law
Navigating the Eye of the Needle: Federal Commutations in the Post-Willie Horton/Marc Rich Era

Cecelia Klingele, University of Wisconsin School of Law
Constraining Mercy

Margaret Colgate Love, and Private Practice
Pardon Politics and Process: What the Feds Can Learn from the States

Friday, February 17, 2012

Minnesota: The Rest of the (Giefer) Story

Back on August 4th, 2011, we were critical of reporting on Tim Pawlenty's pardon of Jeremy A. Geitner. Pawlenty and two others on the Minnesota Board of Pardons were actually unanimous in their decision to grant the pardon to Giefer, who was convicted for having sex with a 14-year-old girl when he was 19. He later married the girl, and they had a child. She also supported his application. But, we noted:
A pardon was not granted. A pardon extraordinary was granted. Such pardons are regulated by Minnesota State law. As a result, Giefer had 1) served his 45-day sentence and 2) maintained a clean record for fourteen years before the pardon extraordinary was granted. His conviction was not overturned. He was not sprung from prison on a technicality and thrown in the streets. 
To many, that wasn't really the story anyway. The real story was the fact that, two years after the Board's decision, Giefer was charged with "sexually assaulting" his own daughter more than 250 times from the time she was 9 until she was 16. What a monster! Epic fail on the part of Pawlenty? Why, sure, if you are a half drunk Roman stumbling to forum to see the lions do their thing. We wrote:
... Giefer could have done what he is charged with now doing regardless of the decision of the Board ... Giefer’s attorney says his client will be found innocent. And Pawlenty is so fortunate that none of this information - however horrible - even existed (much less had relevance) when he and the Board granted the pardon extraordinary. 
And now, the rest of the story:
​Sexual assault charges against Jeremy Giefer were dropped this morning following the victim's recantation. Giefer was scheduled to go on trial next Monday on charges he raped his daughter multiple times over the years. Assistant Blue Earth County Attorney Mike Hanson tells City Pages that the victim has recanted twice in the past two weeks. Last Friday, Hanson brought her into his office to hear what she had to say. "She said none of the allegations were true," Hanson said.
See more on the story.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

St. Thomas Symposium to Explore Clemency

The University of St. Thomas School of Law Journal Spring Symposium will host a group of national scholars and legal professionals to discuss federal commutations on Friday, April 20 beginning at 8 a.m. in the Schulze Grand Atrium at the School of Law in downtown Minneapolis. Fittingly, the event will take place very near one of America's great landmarks to mercy, The Foshay Tower (left)

In an era of mandatory sentencing and budget shortfalls, sentence commutations may again become an important part of criminal justice according to University of St. Thomas School of Law Professor Mark Osler, the faculty advisor for the symposium. The University of St. Thomas Law Journal’s fall symposium gathers both those inside and outside of the criminal justice system who are working to help make sentence commutations an effective and appropriate tool in today’s legal atmosphere. This symposium brings together varying perspectives on the role of sentencing commutations, and combines them with a real-life story of giving and receiving a sentence commutation.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Minnesota: 9 Pardons

The Republic has an informative coverage of nine "pardon extraordinary" decisions from Minnesota. Among them was 71-year-old Merle Bench who stole $8,000 from a non-profit eight years ago. Arguing on his behalf was former Republican Governor Al Quie. Other pardons were granted for theft, drug crimes and disorderly conduct, "some dating to the 1970s." Eight requests for clemency were also denied. See complete article here.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Pardon Symposium: St. Thomas School of Law

Dear P.S. Ruckman, Jr.:

On behalf of the University of St. Thomas Law Journal, I would like to invite you to participate in the Law Journal's upcoming spring symposium, the subject of which will be the pardon power as it relates to state and federal sentence commutations. The purpose of this symposium is threefold: first, to discuss the historical significance of the pardon power and the growing executive timidity towards its use; second, to evaluate the contemporary trends and motivations driving the use, or nonuse, of the pardon power; and third, to explore the potential for future development of the pardon power as a functional and accessible executive instrument—whether an act of policy, an act of reason, or an act of grace.

In pursuit of a diverse and informed perspective, the Journal’s Editor-in-Chief and I have been working closely with Professor Mark Osler to organize experienced and preeminent scholars, practicing attorneys, and former governors to lecture on the subject. Contributors will be divided into a series of panels focusing on the focal points mentioned above: history, currency, and ambition. We are committed to the whole picture: from pro-clemency to pro-finality; from practitioners, to politicians, to pundits. Your particularly broad experience will offer practical context and a concrete underpinning for this discussion.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The "Pardon" v. Reporting on the Pardon

Newsmax reports that Tim Pawlenty’s camp is "worried" about his "pardon of a convicted sex offender who was later arrested again for criminal sexual conduct with his own daughter." But the report itself well illustrates how Pawlenty's decision making should not be nearly so much of a concern as sloppy writing about it, and the impression that it can make.

The piece says, that Pawlenty "approved in 2008, along with two others on the Minnesota Board of Pardons, a pardon of Jeremy A. Giefer" for his "conviction of having sex with a 14-year-old girl when he was 19." Startling, but somewhat stupid. A pardon was not granted. A pardon extraordinary was granted. Such pardons are regulated by Minnesota State law. As a result, Giefer had 1) served his 45-day sentence and 2) maintained a clean record for fourteen years before the pardon extraordinary was granted. His conviction was not overturned. He was not sprung from prison on a technicality and thrown in the streets. That is to say, Giefer could have done what he is charged with now doing regardless of the decision of the Board.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Bremer on Vennes, and the Pardon Process (Part III)

We have followed, with great interest, Karl Bremer's outstanding coverage of the pardon of Frank Vennes Jr. (See first two posts on the case here and here). Bremer has since posted the third installment of the series at Ripple in Stillwater. Although the subject involves a particular case, and the form of analysis if anecdotal, we believe the sheer mass of information Bremer has marshaled reveals this case has probative value. In addition, the carefully crafted conclusions that he reaches are bull's eye material.

Bremer documents that the "pardon trail" of Vennes "is littered with more than $217,000 in political campaign contributions" and letters of recommendation for presidential clemency "from the very same politicians and political officers who benefited from Vennes’ thousands." He also documents the manner in which the "timing" of "many" of these contributions "is in close proximity to activity on his pardon petition. At the very least, writes Bremer, "money appears to have bought the ear of Minnesota politicians for Vennes."

Friday, July 15, 2011

Bremer on Vennes, Part II

At Ripple in Stillwarter, Karl Bremer has posted the second in a three-part series on the "political pardon of Frank Elroy Vennes, Jr. Vennes' application for federal executive clemency was originally filed with the Office of the Pardon Attorney on July 12, 2000. Bremer writes that John D. Raffaelli, "one of Capitol Hill’s leading lobbyists with The Washington Group," referred Vennes to Margaret Colgate Love, a former U.S. Pardon Attorney now in private practice. But President Clinton never acted on application.

The application was, however, referred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office November 6, 2000, returned to the Office of Pardon Attorney November 27 and then referred to the FBI on March 29, 2001. It already had been referred to Vennes' probation officer and the U.S. Attorney's office in North Dakota."

Bremer then meticulously begins to trace an impressive series of campaign contributions before writing, "Vennes’ pardon petition was referred back to the U.S. Attorney’s Office September 4, 2002." He then notes:
Normally, according to sources familiar with the process, the Deputy Attorney General would sign off the OPA’s recommendation and send it on to the White House. In this case, however, Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson sat on it for six months and then returned it to the OPA.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Bremer on Vennes (Bachmann, Coleman and Pawlenty)

Karl Bremer, at Ripple in Stillwater, is producing a series of posts on what he calls the "political pardon" of Frank Elroy Vennes, Jr. Bremer promises the posts will, at some point, raise "questions" about "the integrity of the presidential pardon process itself." Bremer also claims Vennes' clemency application "went through several unusual permutations of approval and denial as it was volleyed back and forth between the Pardon Office, FBI, Deputy Attorney General and the White House over nearly eight years before it was ultimately recommended for approval in 2008."

The background on the case is as follows: Vennes was convicted for money laundering, illegal firearms and cocaine trafficking charges in late eighties and served just over three years in prison. He emerged a religious man, and took up a business in rare and precious stones. Vennes and his family also became "major" campaign contributors to the likes of Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty, Norm Coleman, and the Minnesota State Republican Party. Bachmann, Coleman and Pawlenty returned the favor(s) by recommending Vennes for a presidential pardon.

Bremer says "former federal officials" who are "familiar with the pardon process" say Vennes' clemency application was headed for the White House and approval in July of 2008. But, a few months later, two of Vennes' homes were raided in connection with a $3.5 billion Ponzi scheme. Bremer says Backmann's office "began to move quickly" to put "distance" between herself and Vennes.

First, she wrote a letter to the Office of the Pardon Attorney, withdrawing her support for clemency, but without offering any specific explanation as to why she was doing so. U.S. Pardon Attorney Ronald Rodgers informed White House associate legal counsel of Bachmann's decision on October 3.
Bremer says Bachmann then tried to "symbolically wash her hands" by donating $9,200 ("a amount equal to Frank and Kimberly Vennes’ June 30 donations to Bachmann") to Minnesota Teen Challenge. Bremer notes that, on October 24, Vennes "withdrew his request for executive clemency, the White House returned his case to the Office of Pardon Attorney and the case was 'no actioned' and closed."

Vennes' trial scheduled to begin in February 2012. See Part One of Bremer's series here.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Media's Willie Horton Problem

The Seattle Post Intelligencer recognizes the importance of the pardon power in presidential contests - as we did in a recent post - but draws some interesting, and sometimes odd, conclusions given that point. For example, it is suggested that if executive decision making falls short of utter and complete perfection, for all time, then there may very well be dire electoral consequences. Not so much because voters will hold former executives to such a lofty standard, but because "opposition research" and the traction it will gain in the media will make such a standard seem plausible and relevant.

The article refers to the "Willie Horton problem" (the image of "a violent or deranged felon run amok on their watch") and suggests "the issue of pardons and furloughs is one that could play an unexpected and damaging role for some campaigns" in 2012. We have never had any reason to doubt it!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Pardons: The Unimportant Topic that Makes / Breaks Candidates

We often receive e-mails and comments which essentially make the same point: Who cares about pardons? There are so many other important things about which to be concerned. Why should anyone bother so much about the circumstances of criminals? 

Presidential election campaigns must be very odd things for persons of this mindset to behold. Consider the last go-round, in 2008:

Hillary Clinton was asked about her husband's questionable pardons when it was observed that several recipients were making donations to her campaign. When she badgered Barack Obama about his relationship with Bill Ayers, in a Nationally televised debate, Obama bluntly reminded Mrs. Clinton that her husband pardoned several of Ayers' associates in the Weather Underground. Obama was asked whether or not he would consider a pardon for Tony Rezko. Rudolph Giuliani was asked if he would pardon Bernard Kerik. Vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was asked if she would pardon Senator Ted Stevens. Vice presidential candidate Joe Biden said he was not to keen on the idea of a pardon for Jonathan Pollard. Every Republican candidate was asked, during the debates, how they felt about a potential pardon for Scooter Libby. And every Democratic candidate had something to say about the eventual commutation of sentence he received from George W. Bush. Mitt Romney downright bragged about the fact that he never granted pardons. Mike Huckabee was roundly criticized for granting too many.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Quite the Pair: Herbert H. Bigelow and Charlie Ward

Hubert Huse Bigelow was the chief executive officer of Brown and Bigelow, a company in St. Paul, Minnesota which produced playing cards and calendars. Industry magazine described him as "one of the foremost citizens of the Midwest." His partner, Hiram Brown, was actually quite apart from the day to day operations of the company, but Bigelow was famous for a meticulous management style and a tendency to wear unnecessarily cheap suites.

When the Sixteenth Amendment created the federal income tax, Bigelow simply ignored the law and became the first "big-name" target of government prosecutors. As a result, he was convicted on June 24, 1924. Bigelow was fined ten thousand dollars and sentenced to two years in the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas.

Prison life was not exactly comfortable for businessman Bigelow. Indeed, he constantly felt as though his life was being threatened. Something had to be done, or someone was going to have to step in and provide protection. As U.S. Attorney General Francis Biddle described it, Bigelow just happened to meet a man “in the cell next to him” and the two became "friends.” But others would claim that Bigelow’s lawyer, Will Oppenheimer, arranged for his client to meet and share the same cell with one Charles Allen Ward, the man who would provide the necessary protection.

Ward had been in prison for almost four years by the time he “met” Bigelow. He was born in Seattle and, after high school, went from a job selling newspapers to a job shining shoes. This led him to work as a commercial fisherman and driving dog-sleds. He even managed a hotel before moving to Tijuana to run his own casino.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Getting Out of the Self-Created Corner

In an era of booming prison populations and governmental overreach, executives (both state and federal) essentially paint themselves into a nasty little corner when they fail to exercise the pardon power on a regular basis, throughout the term, if not with some frequency. The consequences of such behavior are predictable and yet, to no small degree, almost completely avoidable. Governor Schwarzenegger's recent commutation of sentence for the son of a former state politician is a classic example of the problem and its symptoms. It also leads one easily enough to a very  logical solution.

First, let it be said that the sons and daughter of politicians deserve justice, and fair consideration, as much as anyone else. The same goes for a governor's (or president's) political allies, supporters, donors and party leaders. An individual should not be exempt from any possibility of clemency simply because they share enthusiastic support for the same party or political views as a governor, or president. That simply flies in the face of basic notions of justice.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Top Ten Clemency Stories of 2010

Here, in our humble opinion are the Top Ten Clemency Stories of 2010. Each item is also linked. Simply click on the associated number. Oh, and by the way, sorry, no Billy the Kid nonsense here:

Number 10: The Mighty Quinn - When former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (D) was run out of office, he left a stack of literally thousands of clemency applications behind, some dating back more than a decade. His replacement, Pat Quinn (D) promised to address the applications as best as he could, in a more timely fashion. In his mind, timely attention is implicit in the very notion of a just application process. Quinn kept his word.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Monitor in Over Its Head

Over at the Christian Science Monitor, they are sporting a list of ... well ... it isn't exactly easy to classify what it is. It is described as a "surprise" list of pardons, but at least three were hardly a "surprise," one was given to a dead person and another has not even been granted. Lesson? Don't try this at home kids! Wait for our own - more serious and relevant - Top Ten Clemency Stories of 2010.

For now, here is what they came up with over at the Monitor:

6. Brian Aitken (hardly a surprise)
5. Ronald Foster (hardly significant!)
4. Apple and Cider (hardly a surprise)
3. The pardon capital: Nevis, Minn.
2. Jim Morrison, the Lizard King (dead)
1. Billy the Kid: A promised but deferred reprieve? (not yet granted)

See entire piece here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Pardon for Dakota Indian?

Although the Obama Justice Department has already deep-sixed the idea of posthumous pardons (in response to calls for the pardon of long-dead boxing champion / bad boy Jack Johnson), the New York Times reports there is some interest in pursuing a pardon for one We-Chank-Wash-ta-don-pee (aka Chaska), who was hanged along with 37 other Dakota Indians on December 26, 1862.

According to the story, Abraham Lincoln commuted Chaska's sentence just one day before the hanging, but he was executed anyway, along with the “most ferocious” followers of the Dakota leader Little Crow, who were accused of killing almost 500 settlers along the Minnesota frontier.

Gary C. Anderson, a University of Oklahoma history professor says the soldiers who carried out the execution "just grabbed the wrong guy.” Gwen Westerman, a professor of English at Minnesota State University at Mankato adds that "it’s time to talk about it and time for people to know about it.” The effort is reported to be supported by Representative James L. Oberstar (D-Minn) and Senator Al Franken (D-Minn). See complete story here.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Politics Daily "Copy Editor" Needs Editing

Carla Baranauckas, a "copy editor" at, is apparently anxious to sting Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty the way Al Gore stung Michael Dukakis with a question about "weekend passes for convicted criminals" back in the 1988 Democratic debates. It was Dukakis, of course who granted a weekend furlough to convicted killer Willie Horton, who then proceeded to kidnap a couple, stab a man and rape a woman. The sensible person reasonably asks, "What in the world does that have to do with Governor Pawlenty?"

Monday, December 6, 2010

Huckabee on Pawlenty

HANNITY: Tim Pawlenty, now, has got to spend a lot of time dealing with this issue of a pardon. You had to deal with almost a similar issue.

HUCKABEE: Absolutely, and I will deal with it again. I was a governor 10.5 years. You deal with this stuff. Frankly, the thing that he's being hit with is very unfair. Tim Pawlenty made a tough decision. He didn't make a decision based on his ability to see into the future. He made the decision based on what he had. I'll be honest with you. The politically safe position is always to deny. Never, ever get involved in any type of clemency -- whether it's a pardon, a commutation, anything.

See story here.

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