A national legal reform group sent a letter Monday to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) asking for an investigation of alleged misconduct in the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney.
The letter asks the Senate Judiciary Committee to investigation the allegations made in a jointly published Washington Post and ProPublica story that the U.S. Pardon Attorney Ronald L. Rodgers unfairly rejected a clemency plea from Clarence Aaron in 2008, despite recommendations by the judge who oversaw his case and a U.S Attorney in Alabama. He received a life sentence for his role in a cocaine deal, his first criminal offense, according to the report. The group, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, describes itself as a non-partisan legal group focused on fair sentencing laws. The organization’s letter is signed by more than 30 other groups and individuals.
In contrast, Rodgers recommended the George W. Bush White House pardon Reed Prior, a methamphetamine dealer convicted in 1996, who was serving a life sentence for his fourth criminal offense. Prosecutors in Des Moines, Iowa, wrote a letter opposing his release, according to ProPublica.
In addition, a ProPublica story published in December said that white inmates are four times more likely than minorities to receive pardons.
“The recent media investigations into the OPA’s activities, however, suggest that there are troubling racial disparities in the application of pardons and that OPA is withholding or misrepresenting critical information from the presidents it is supposed to serve,” the letter states. “Taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize an office that is abusing its power, nor should applicants for executive clemency face a deck that is stacked against them in secret.”
The Justice Department declined to comment about the Aaron case to ProPublica, but a spokeswoman did say that every clemency request is “considered carefully and thoroughly by the Office of the Pardon Attorney.”
Rodgers has been the Pardon Attorney since 2008. Previously he served as director of the department’s Drug Intelligence Unit in the Criminal Division starting in 2005. From 1995 to 1999, he served as the Atlantic Circuit Military Judge and Deputy Chief Judge in the Marine-Navy Corps Trial Judiciary.
The ProPublica story investigating Aaron’s clemency denial also alleges that Rodgers changed the review process for requests between 2008 and 2010: Paralegals reviewed applications instead of staff attorneys. In the past four years, 7,000 prisoners have been rejected for clemency, 22 times as many rejected during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, according to the report.
Among the organizations who signed the letter are the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP, Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Constitution Project and the United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society.