WASHINGTON (Sep. 11)
Judges hearing a motion Tuesday to allow convicted spy Jonathan Pollard to withdraw his 1986 guilty plea appeared to be skeptical of his lawyer’s argument that the plea was coerced.
But at least one member of the three-judge federal appellate panel seemed persuaded that there may have been collusion between the U.S. government and the judge who sentenced Pollard to life imprisonment in March 1987 for having passed classified documents to Israel.
The motion to invalidate Pollard’s June 1986 plea bargain agreement with the U.S. government was heard Tuesday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. A ruling is expected within two months.
During the hearing, Judges Ruth Ginsburg and Stephen Williams appeared to be skeptical of attorney Theodore Olson’s contention that Pollard was pressured to enter a guilty plea, according to a report in The Washington Post.
But, according to The Washington Times, Judge Laurence Silberman said he was troubled by what appeared to be collusion “through winks and nods, almost” to ensure that Pollard would receive the maximum sentence possible.
Silberman asked U.S. Attorney John Fisher how the government could condone a plea agreement in which it promised not to be harsh, then submit a document accusing Pollard of treason, a more serious crime he was never charged with.
The judge was referring to an affidavit submitted before the sentencing by then Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, which stated that he could not “conceive of greater harm to national security” and that Pollard’s punishment “should reflect the perfidy of (his) actions” and the “magnitude of the treason committed.”
ATTACKING POLLARD’S CHARACTER
“It is regrettable that word (treason) was used by the secretary of defense,” Fisher reportedly responded, “but I don’t think it was a violation of the plea agreement.”
The plea agreement limited the government to discussing “the facts and circumstances of the offenses committed” by Pollard and to correcting “any misstatements of fact.”
Olson argued that the government disregarded the agreement by attacking Pollard’s character at the sentencing hearing and by seeking a life term indirectly through the Weinberger affidavit, according to the Washington Times account.
Fisher responded that Pollard was fully aware that the plea agreement did not preclude the sentencing judge, U.S. District Judge Aubrey Robinson Jr., from imposing a life sentence.
Olson also argued that Pollard’s guilty plea was coerced and involuntary because it was linked, or “wired,” to a similar plea by Pollard’s wife at the time, Anne Henderson Pollard. The two have since been divorced.
Fisher countered that Pollard had explicitly told Robinson at the sentencing hearing that his plea agreement was voluntary. He suggested Pollard was merely trying to win a reduced jail term.
From the judges’ questions and reactions, it appears likely that the case will hinge on whether the panel determines that the government violated its part of the plea agreement. If so, it would open the door to a new sentencing hearing.