Justice Official Expresses Concern Over Pre-Transition Pardon Rush Job

MacIver News Service | November 16, 2010

[Madison, Wisc…] The Department of Justice’s representative of the Pardon Advisory Board is accusing the Doyle Administration of subverting normal review procedures in an end-of-term rush of activity.

Cindy O’Donnell sent an email to Susan Crawford Monday detailing her concerns. Crawford is Chairworman of the Pardon Advisory Board and serves as chief legal counsel to outgoing Democratic Governor Jim Doyle.

“While I have no concern about the additional meetings and am happy to meet as often as you deem necessary during 2010, I am concerned about the fact that we will not hear directly from the applicants, nor will we have the opportunity to question them regarding their offense, their criminal history, their need for a pardon or any other pertinent matter,” wrote O’Donnell. “As you know, this portion of the process is critical in making a meaningful recommendation as to whether the applicant should be recommended for a pardon.”

She believes not hearing directly from would-be pardon recipients not only goes against precedent, it could lead to the awarding of inappropriate pardons.

“When I trained with my predecessor, Assistant Attorney General Daniel O’Brien, in preparation for serving on this Board, the best advice he gave to me at the time was that I should never predetermine my vote based on the case file,” O’Donnell’s letter to Crawford reads. “He [O’Brien] served with distinction for many years on the Pardon Advisory Board and found that applicants who looked good on paper were sometimes actually found to be inappropriate for a pardon recommendation based on the interview portion of the hearing.”

O’Donnell is an administrator for Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen. However, she began work with DOJ when Democrat Peg Lautenschlager held the office. She also served as Deputy Secretary of the Department of Corrections under three Governors–Republicans Tommy G. Thompson and Scott McCallum as well as Doyle.

O’Donnell has served on the Pardon Advisory Board since April of 2009.

The Board’s recommendations are merely advisory, Doyle may grant pardons and commutations against their advice.

In addition to Crawford and O’Donnell, members of the Pardon Advisor board are, William Rankin (representing the Department of Corrections), Tom Eagon, District Attorney from Portage County, Jennifer Bias, of the Public Defender’s Office and two citizen members: Pastor Harold Moore and Shannon Young.

Doyle’s term ends January 3, 2003.

The Pardon Advisory Board meets Wednesday in room 21BN at the State Capitol to review misdemeanor waivers only and will review felony cases on Friday, December 10 and Friday, December 17 at times and locations to be determined.

See O’Donnell’s email to Crawford, here.