Pollard's Lawyers Try A New Maneuver

Ira Rifkin - The Jerusalem Report - April 18, 2005

A bitter Esther Pollard, wife of imprisoned Israel spy Jonathan Pollard, doubts that her husband will ever gain a legal review of his life sentence, despite the latest attempt by attorneys to convince a court that the former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst, now serving his twentieth year behind bars, is being unjustly punished. Pollard's attorneys on March 15 asked a three-judge Washington federal appeals court for access to classified information - including a damning 46-page memo to the court that sentenced Pollard from then-secretary of state Casper Weinberger - that they deem necessary for gaining clemency or parole and another sentencing hearing for their client.

The panel's rulings are expected in three to six months but, based on her reading of the judges' remarks at the hearing, Esther Pollard holds little hope they will decide in favor of the motions. "There was open hostility from the bench. It was truly a mockery of justice," she told The Report, pointing to comments by Judge David Sentelle, who said Pollard, 50, thinks he is "unique" and deserved of additional legal appeals denied others.

"We are not unfamiliar with the term, 'unique.' It has been used in the past to refer to Jews and Israel, as an anti-Semitic device," she says. She has repeatedly charged that anti-Semitism and anti- Israel "political motives" are the real reasons for her husband's long incarceration.

Elliot Lauer, one of the attorneys representing Pollard pro bono, acknowledges that Sentelle and one of the two other judges asked "tough questions, assertive questions." But Lauer, a high-profile New York commercial and white-collar criminal defense attorney, says he remains hopeful that the panel's decision will be favorable. Coverage of the hearing in the Washington Post and elsewhere, however, suggests that Esther Pollard's pessimism is more realistic. A Post reporter wrote that two judges indicated at the hearing that they considered Pollard's new motions as being "on weak legal ground."

Should the motions be denied, Pollard's attorneys could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Here, too, Esther Pollard held out little hope of success. "How many cases does that court take out of the many submitted?" she asks. "They're not likely to take this on."

Pollard, who is being held in North Carolina and was not on hand for the latest legal maneuver on his behalf, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy for passing classified and sensitive information to Israel in the mid-1980s, information he contends was vital to Israel's defense and to which, as a U.S. ally, it was entitled. Under his plea agreement, the U.S. government ceded the right to ask for a life sentence.

Pollard received life in large measure, his attorneys have contended, because of the memo by Weinberger, who said it was difficult "to conceive of a greater harm to [U.S.] national security than caused by" Pollard. Pollard supporters call his sentence unjust because the government reneged on a plea agreement and because spies who worked for enemy nations have received much lighter sentences.

Lauer is now arguing that the classified portions of the memo should be made available to the defense - as they have been to the prosecution - for use in preparing clemency and parole requests. The request for a new sentencing hearing alleges that Pollard's initial attorney was grossly ineffective and failed to file any notice of appeal or to challenge the Weinberger memo.

Israel granted Pollard citizenship in 1995, and the Knesset, on the day of the recent court hearing, passed a resolution urging the government to make Pollard's release a condition for freeing additional Palestinian prisoners.

Esther Pollard, however, was critical of Jerusalem - as well as American Jewish groups - for not sending representatives to the Washington court as a show of support. "They try to distance themselves from this case because they can't admit that Jonathan's incarceration underscores their own weakness. This case is a litmus test for how comfortable Jews can feel in America," she says.

  • See Also: The Court Case Page