Pollard appeals to Supreme Court in latest effort to end his life sentence

By Matthew E. Berger

WASHINGTON — Jonathan Pollard is looking to the U.S. Supreme Court to help him get out of prison.

Pollard, the former U.S. Navy intelligence officer, petitioned the high court Wednesday to reverse a lower court decision that had denied his lawyers access to classified information used to sentence him to life in prison for spying for Israel.


Pollard’s attorneys are seeking access to 40 pages of materials, in a bid to prove that much of the supposed repercussions of his spying never occurred. The lawyers believe this information will help convince President Bush or future presidents to free Pollard.

In 1986, Pollard was sentenced to life in prison in a spy case that roiled U.S.-Israeli relations.

After several unsuccessful attempts to have his sentence overturned, Pollard and his advocates believe a pardon is the most viable option to get him out of jail.

“For the time being, this is the remaining action in the judiciary sphere, ” Pollard’s attorney, Eliot Lauer, told JTA. “It’s conceivable that we’d do something else, but this is the only pending approach in the court system. “

Pollard, who is serving his sentence in a federal prison in Butner, N.C., had earlier tried to get his sentence overturned because of ineffective counsel, but a three-judge panel on the Federal Appeals Court for the District of Columbia Circuit denied that motion last year.

At the same time, the majority ruled Pollard’s attorneys could not receive access to the sensitive material, even though they had security clearances, because they were seeking the documents to prepare an argument for clemency.

The judge in the case, David Sentelle, had ruled against the petition, saying clemency is the discretion of the executive branch.

Lauer said the appeals court took an “extreme view ” of the separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary branches of government.

Lauer estimates that only 10 percent of cases petitioned to the Supreme Court are heard. But he said the court may want to address the separation of powers issue, without addressing the merits of the Pollard case.

Even if Pollard’s case is heard and is victorious, it would remain an uphill battle to see the documents.

Another lower court, in an earlier petition, had also denied Pollard’s motion to gain access to the documents, but on the grounds his attorneys did not have a “need to know ” the content.

The classified information includes a memo by then-Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger, who is believed to have been significant in persuading the court to ignore sentencing normal guidelines and send Pollard to prison for life. It is believed to have outlined the effect Pollard’s spying had on American intelligence.

Lauer wants to show that many of Weinberger’s contentions did not come true.

“Let us do the legwork, so we can establish for the president that none of these things ever materialized,” Lauer said.

The original request to see the information was made in 2000, when then-President Clinton was said to be considering Pollard’s case before leaving office.

President Bush has granted far fewer clemencies, and efforts to free Pollard have waned in recent years.