Tuesday, December 20, 2016


A Bittersweet Day

Yesterday, President Obama (seemingly acting from a beach in Hawaii) granted over 150 commutations, for a total of about 1200 over his presidency.  10 of those receiving commutations yesterday were clients of the Clemency Resource Center that Rachel Barkow and I set up, and one of them was a client of my clinic at St. Thomas.

The routine is pretty familiar to me by now... first, rumors circulate that grants are coming. Then, the rumors are confirmed as calls go out to the attorneys with instructions to contact their clients. In the middle of it is the hardest thing of all: Taking calls from clients who are not on the list, who are becoming panicky as the end of hope nears with the close of the Obama Presidency. I have to tell them no, no, I'm sorry, they are not on the list of the chosen. There is a silence. I don't know what to say. It is like standing next to someone as you both look into a deep hole and feel a landslide behind you.

But there is also the good, even great. A man named Tyrone Trader is-- well, was-- doing a life sentence for relatively small-time narcotics trafficking. My students Pat O'Neill and Matt Blubaugh worked on his case and submitted a strong petition on his behalf. Yesterday, they got to call him up and tell him that he would not be spending the entirety of his natural life in prison. That is a moment you don't forget.

I got to make a call, too. The judge who sentenced Trader was the Hon. Jan E. DuBois of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Twenty-five years ago I was his clerk, and he made a huge and important impression on me, convincing me of the type of lawyer I wanted to be. I helped him sort out tricky sentencing issues, including some in a complex case brought by new prosecutor Robert Zauzmer-- the same Robert Zauzmer who is now the pardon attorney.

Every so often, I call Judge DuBois, or see him when I am in Philly.  Yesterday, though, I got to call him and tell him that the sentence he gave to Trader-- one he did not choose, but that was mandated by a mandatory minimum law-- had been amended by the grace of the executive. It was a good moment, a quiet one, the elegant spiraling of a silvery loop into a circle. And so in the tumult there is that, too.

We can only hope that all those that deserve release get a chance to be heard and action is taken as soon as possible. I do not believe that a decent solution would be to have the perception that there will be winners and losers.
The portrait of Judge DuBuis by Michael Shane Neil was one of his best works. I know this fine portrait artist would be proud to be part of your remarkable story.

goos post
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Thanks for the post. I'm glad to hear the good news, along with the painful cases that remain.
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