WASHINGTON - A federal judge turned down convicted spy Jonathan Pollard's latest attempt to reduce the life sentence he received for passing military secrets to Israel while working as an intelligence analyst for the Navy.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan said Pollard waited too long to try to contest the 1987 sentence and did not make a convincing case that he got poor legal help from the high-powered stable of lawyers who have worked for him over the years.
Hogan also refused a request from Pollard's latest legal team to see secret documents the Reagan administration submitted to the judge who imposed the sentence 16 years ago. Pollard's lawyers say they need to see the material to rebut government arguments against any new appeal or against a request for presidential clemency.
"Mr. Pollard has couched his claims in alleged violations of constitutional rights, such as ineffective assistance of counsel, but closer inquiry reveals these alleged violations to be merely procedural in nature," Hogan wrote in a court order dated Wednesday and released Thursday.
Pollard lawyer Jacques Semmelman said he will appeal both orders, which resulted from an unusual hearing in Hogan's courtroom in September. Hogan ordered Pollard to appear in court for the session, though he did not say why. It was Pollard's first public appearance since his sentencing in 1987.
Hogan also cast doubt on chances the White House will set Pollard free.
"He has presented no credible evidence that the current president is any more willing to grant him clemency than the previous three presidents who declined to do so," Hogan wrote in denying access to the sealed documents.
One of the documents is a declaration from then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger outlining the security damage from Pollard.
"Mr. Pollard and his attorneys have offered no new justification for this court to determine that any of them have a 'need to know'" what the documents contain, Hogan wrote.
Pollard's original lawyer was able to see the documents, which were filed shortly before the sentencing hearing.
The legal challenge to Pollard's sentence was always a long shot, and his supporters have focused much of their effort on winning presidential clemency. Pollard will eventually renew his request to the White House, Semmelman said Thursday.
Pollard, 49, was a civilian intelligence analyst for the Navy when he copied and gave to his Israeli handlers classified documents. He was not paid when his spying began in 1984, but acknowledged that Israel later began paying him.
Pollard was caught in November 1985 and arrested after unsuccessfully seeking refuge at the Israeli Embassy. He initially denied he worked for Israel but later acknowledged it. He claims prosecutors reneged on a promise to seek a lesser sentence in return for his cooperation.
His case has been a sticking point in U.S.-Israeli relations. The Israeli government, which granted Pollard citizenship, repeatedly has pressed for his release.
A 1998 U.S.-brokered peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians nearly foundered when then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly linked his agreement to the deal with clemency for Pollard.
Pollard's case was reviewed by federal officials in 2000 but he was left off the list of those granted clemency just before President Clinton left office.
The Israeli government has continued to press the issue with the Bush administration.
A telephone call seeking comment from the Israeli Embassy was not immediately returned Thursday.