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Convicted Spy Pollard Contests Life Term

American who gave documents to Israel appears in court, where his attorneys say the U.S. misled him about the length of his sentence.

September 03, 2003|James Gerstenzang | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — He was diminutive and cleanshaven in late 1985, an American man facing charges that he had spied for Israel. Under an arrangement his lawyers thought had been worked out with the Justice Department, Jonathan Jay Pollard expected to be sentenced to several years in prison.

Now balding and rotund, a full, mostly gray, beard covering his face, he remains in federal custody, serving a life sentence. Pollard was back in federal court Tuesday, wearing a prison jersey -- and a small white skullcap that is a symbol of religious devotion worn by some Jewish men. His expression was intent as his lawyers made a new attempt to win his freedom.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan took their arguments, and the opposition voiced by lawyers from the U.S. attorney's office, under advisement -- holding out the possibility, however slim, that pointed legal assertions may win freedom for a man whose case has been woven into a broad web of foreign policy and political maneuvers.

Two questions rest at the heart of Pollard's argument: whether he received adequate legal representation after he was sentenced, and whether his lawyers should see the full dossier, some of which remains classified nearly 18 years after his arrest, that the government assembled against him.

Pollard's appearance in a fourth-floor courtroom in Washington's federal courthouse was merely a formality for the 1 1/2 hours he was present -- the first time he has been seen in public since his sentencing -- he said not a word. Hogan, for reasons that he did not disclose and that remained a mystery to Pollard's lawyers, had summoned him to court from a federal prison in North Carolina for the proceeding, which was sought by Pollard's lawyers.

Pollard remained focused on the judge and the lawyers, seemingly paying no attention to his wife, Esther, who had an unobstructed view of the man she met and married after he went to prison.

The case is regularly raised by Israeli officials seeking leniency for the spy when they meet with their U.S. counterparts -- and U.S. officials, commenting on the meetings, appear to brush it aside. Pollard, who at the time of his arrest was a 31-year-old civilian counterintelligence analyst for the Navy, said he had presented the Israelis with intelligence documents out of devotion to the Jewish state, but eventually received several thousand dollars a month for his effort. Long after his arrest, he was given Israeli citizenship.

Similarly, Pollard's supporters -- approximately 50 of whom filled most of the available seats in the courtroom -- have pressured President Bush and, before him, President Clinton, in an effort to win clemency.

Among them was Rep. Anthony D. Weiner, a member of the House Judiciary Committee and a Democrat whose New York district is home to many of Pollard's supporters. His presence in the courtroom reflected the strong political interest in the case, particularly in Jewish communities.

But Tuesday's hearing hinged on finer points of law.

Jacques Semmelman, one of Pollard's lawyers, argued that the work of the spy's initial lawyer was "woefully inadequate" and that he had failed to file a one-page notice of intention to appeal after the life sentence had been imposed.

Robert Okun, an assistant U.S. attorney, argued that Pollard's lawyers had "submitted numerous and voluminous pleadings" on his behalf over the years.

Pollard's lawyers have long argued that under negotiations worked out with the Justice Department, he expected to be sentenced to several years in prison in exchange for his guilty plea.

Chief U.S. District Judge Aubrey E. Robinson Jr., who sentenced Pollard, said he was convinced that Pollard and his first wife, Anne Henderson-Pollard, had compromised U.S. national security. Robinson cited a classified statement from Caspar W. Weinberger, who was the secretary of Defense at the time.

Henderson-Pollard pleaded guilty to lesser charges related to the spying and was sentenced to two five-year terms. She and Pollard divorced, and she has been released from prison.

U.S. officials said when the case was made public that Pollard had passed thousands of pages of U.S. defense secrets to Israeli intelligence agents.

Semmelman, a former assistant U.S. attorney, and Eliot Lauer, another Pollard lawyer, have tried without success to view Weinberger's pre-sentencing submission and other documents in the case. Lauer said that he and Semmelman hold top-secret clearances and would be satisfied to view the material in a vault in the Justice Department.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Steven Pelak told the court Tuesday that "the defense has simply not shown any need to know" what is in the dossier, while "other government agencies have represented that there is a need to guard that information."

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