TPM Muckraker:

Bush Clemency Followed Call From Iowa Governor

By Zachary Roth – January 2, 2009, 4:34PM

The New York Times has gone through President Bush’s latest round of pardons and commutations, issued on December 23rd, and found some interesting new nuggets.

We already knew about the case of Isaac Toussie, the New York real estate crook whose pardon was revoked after it emerged that his father was a major Bush donor.

But the Times adds to that the story of Reed Prior, an Iowan serving a life sentence for a drug conviction.

Prior’s previous applications for clemency, including one filed as recently as December 2007, were rejected. But this year, Prior’s lawyer asked Iowa governor Chet Culver (whose wife he happened to know) to call White House counsel Fred Fielding and schedule a meeting about the application. Culver did so. After meeting with Prior’s lawyer, Fielding recommended granting the application, which President Bush then did.

And here’s another case of what looks like special treatment:

Alan S. Maiss, once president of Bally Gaming Inc., was convicted in 1995 in a case related to a video-poker scandal in Louisiana. In seeking a pardon, Mr. Maiss was represented by H. Christopher Bartolomucci, an associate White House counsel from 2001 to 2003.

Mr. Maiss applied on Dec. 26, 2007, far later than most of the other pardon recipients. A Justice Department spokeswoman, Laura Sweeney, said Mr. Maiss did not get through quickly because of special treatment. Ms. Sweeney noted that two others who were granted pardons in December had applied recently — in August 2007 and February 2008.

But Douglas A. Berman, a criminal law professor at Ohio State University, and a clemency consultant, said “there’s no doubt” that Mr. Maiss had received fast-track treatment.

Mr. Bartolomucci, who has several other clemency clients, said he visited the White House in August 2008, “hand-delivered the materials that had already gone to the Justice Department,” and “took a few minutes” to talk with the associate counsel who handles pardons, Kenneth Lee, about Mr. Maiss’s case.

“His application was granted because of its considerable merits,” Mr. Bartolomucci said.

Leaving aside the merits or lack thereof of these particular cases, the larger problem here is the simple fact that these backdoor routes aren’t open to the great majority of people.

Karen Orehowsky, described as a volunteer clemency consultant who advised Mr. Prior’s commutation team, tells the Times:

It takes a ‘Hail Mary’ from people who have a lot of connections and who are willing to put their neck out for people they care about, and it’s unfair to people who don’t have those connections.

Seems about right.