Israeli Spy Pollard Fights Life Sentence
Pete Yost - Associated Press - March 15, 2005
WASHINGTON -- Two federal appeals court judges suggested Tuesday that convicted spy Jonathan Pollard is on weak legal ground in asking them to help shorten the life sentence he received for delivering classified documents to Israel.
Reviving Pollard's case would mean that "you've opened the floodgates" for hundreds of other prisoners sentenced long ago, Judge David Sentelle, a member of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, told Pollard's lawyers during a 45-minute argument.
A second member of the three-judge panel, Judith Rogers, also questioned whether Pollard, who pleaded guilty to conspiring to spy for Israel, is entitled to further court challenges of his sentence.
Pollard lawyers Eliot Lauer and Jacques Semmelman argued that the U.S. government lied to Pollard and that his previous lawyers failed to defend him properly.
Sentelle disagreed, calling Pollard's original attorney, Richard Hibey, one of the most highly regarded criminal defense lawyers in the country.
The assertion by Pollard's current lawyers that another of his previous lawyers had a conflict of interest and should not have been in the case is "nothing but speculation," said assistant U.S. attorney Mary McCord.
Pollard, 50, was a civilian intelligence analyst for the Navy when he copied and gave to his Israeli handlers enough classified documents to fill a walk-in closet. He was not paid when his spying began in 1984, but acknowledged that Israel later began paying him a few thousand dollars a month.
Pollard was caught in November 1985 and arrested after unsuccessfully seeking refuge at the Israeli Embassy. His case has strained U.S.-Israeli relations.
His lawyers have a two-pronged legal attack - seeking clemency from President Bush while also attempting to get the appeals court to order a hearing in U.S. District Court.
On the clemency front, Pollard's lawyers want the courts to get them access to certain classified government documents. Sentelle said the courts have no authority to get involved in a plea for clemency.
"No court anywhere" has ever tried to order the executive branch to do what Pollard's lawyers are asking, Sentelle said. "How can we order the president to take action in this process?"
The classified material, Lauer told the judges, will help Pollard's legal team demonstrate the harm to national security that the government said was attributable to Pollard's spying was in fact attributable to others.
Pollard faults his original lawyer for not filing a notice of appeal in 1986 when the government, according to Pollard's lawyers, in effect sought a term of life imprisonment after promising it would not do so.
Sentelle pointed out that Pollard had pleaded guilty and that in those days, lawyers "just did not file notice of appeal after guilty pleas." Based on the assertions of Pollard's lawyers, "probably about 99 percent" of the attorneys would have to be deemed ineffective counsel, he said.
Admitting to a single count of conspiring to spy for Israel, Pollard thought he had a deal to receive U.S. government support for a shorter sentence because he provided details of his espionage.
What he got instead, he says, was a full-court press by the Reagan administration that helped persuade a judge to put him behind bars for the rest of his life. He's serving his sentence at the federal prison in Butner, N.C.
His 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.
The three-judge panel hearing the case consists of Sentelle, a Reagan appointee; Karen Henderson, an appointee of President Bush's father; and Rogers, a Clinton appointee.