Jerry Brown takes back a pardon . . . really?

CA.img42766495Jerry Brown reportedly regretted one of his 105 Christmas Eve pardons, after learning from an LA Times article that the recipient had recently been disciplined by federal financial regulators.  He therefore announced that he was rescinding his grant, claiming that the pardon was not yet final because the Secretary of State had not signed the document evidencing it.

This is not the first time that a governor or president has had second thoughts about a pardon, but it is unusual for a chief executive to attempt to undo one that has been made public.  Governor Brown’s attempt to retract the pardon may or may not be effective, but it certainly reflects unfortunate disarray in the administration of the pardon power in California for which other deserving pardon candidates may end up paying.

Glen Williams Carnes was pardoned on December 24 for a 1989 drug-related offense committed while he was a teenager, for which he spent three years on probation.  In the pardon document, Brown stated the Carnes had received an order from the Orange County Superior Court “evidencing … he has lived an honest and upright life, exhibited good moral character and conducted himself as a law-abiding citizen.” This judicial order, styled a “Certificate of Rehabilitation,” is the first step in the California pardon process, after which applications are submitted by the governor’s office for a second vetting by the Board of Parole Hearings.

Later that same day, the Times reported that

[F]ederal records show Carnes was disciplined by investment regulators in May 2013. He signed a consent settlement with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority that states he agreed to be barred from financial investment. The document alleged that he hid an outside business deal and provided investigators with “false and misleading statements that minimized and mischaracterized his involvement.” Carnes did not admit guilt.

Securities and Exchange Commission records show the business deal that led to the sanction became what is now Carnes’ company: Global Vision Holdings, a publicly traded corporate umbrella of which Carnes is listed as CEO, chairman of the board and chief financial officer.

Currently, Global Vision owns The Place Media, which publishes local magazines placed in hotels, Mamma’s Best, a line of organic food products, and a financial consulting firm. However, SEC records show Global Vision’s last financial report was made in late 2013. In April, it informed the SEC it could not complete its year-end 2013 filing in time “due to recent turnover in its accounting department.”

Upon learning from the newspapers of the FINRA sanctions, Governor Brown moved that same afternoon to withdraw the pardon, stating that he had relied to his detriment on the court’s order of rehabilitation, and that in any case the pardon had not yet become final:

“This information was not disclosed by the applicant,” Brown’s spokesman, Evan Westrup, said in a written response to The Times. “Without the certificate of rehabilitation, this individual would not have been considered for a pardon. This particular pardon has not yet been attested by the Secretary of State and it has subsequently been withdrawn.”

For his part, the disappointed Mr. Carnes told the Times that he planned to contact Brown’s office “first thing on Friday morning as tomorrow is Christmas, to refute your allegations.” The Associated Press reported that Carnes said he was unaware he needed to report the regulatory settlement on his clemency application.

Stay tuned for further details in this most recent pardon soap.  In the meantime, we have a couple of comments on the episode.  First of all, it is not at all clear that the Governor’s effort to retract a pardon he had already announced, on grounds that a ministerial formality had not yet been performed, will be held effective if challenged.  The Supreme Court of Michigan recently invalidated a similar attempted retraction by Governor Granholm, there of a commutation she later regretted after protests by his victim’s family.  See Makowski v. Governor, 495 Mich. 465; 852 N.W.2d 61 (June 3, 2014).  See also Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803).  We don’t know if Mr. Carnes plans to take his case to court — though the possibility of further embarrassment may discourage him.  (This is apparently why Isaac Toussie didn’t contest President George W. Bush’s retraction of his pardon under similar circumstances — a pardon that was also granted apparently without adequate staffing.)

The Carnes episode also reflects poorly on the present state of the California pardon process, and on its reliability in service to the Governor.   Carnes reportedly told the Times that “he went through an extensive background check that took over a year making him eligible for his gubernatorial pardon.”   However, that background check (presumably by the BPH and the governor’s staff) evidently didn’t dig very deep to reassure the Governor that Carnes was a suitable recipient of his public mercy:  A simple Google search by CCRC staff finds Carnes listed on the website of the CFA Institute as an individual “currently serving public disciplinary sanctions for violations of the CFA Institute Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Conduct or who have resigned their memberships while under investigation for industry-related misconduct.”

Nor was the court’s certification of Carnes’ rehabilitation a very effective filter in this case. Carnes was reportedly granted his COR in August 2013, several months after the FINRA sanctions were imposed.  It is unclear whether the court knew of the sanctions when it granted the COR, though they would certainly seem to have reflected poorly on Mr. Carnes’ rehabilitation in that context as well.

Finally, while the retraction is unfortunate for Mr. Carnes, it is even more unfortunate for others who are seeking a pardon from Governor Brown, since it is inevitable that an episode like this may dampen his general enthusiasm for pardoning.  This is why it is so very important that those staffing pardons for an elected official do a thorough investigation and be very sure there is nothing about a case that might cause embarrassment.  Neither the BPH nor the court appears not to have done a very thorough job in this case, if our own crude Google-limited investigative efforts are any guide.  And now others awaiting the Governor’s favor may suffer for this poor staffing.

We will have more to say in this space about the administration of the pardon power in California.  We believe that its basic framework, notably its reliance on a prior judicial finding of rehabilitation, could be adapted into a comprehensive functional relief system second to none in the country.

Margaret Love

Margaret Love is CCRC's Executive Director. A former U.S. Pardon Attorney, she represents applicants for executive clemency in her private practice in Washington, D.C.. She is lead co-author of Collateral Consequences of Criminal Conviction: Law, Policy, and Practice (4th ed. 2021), and served as an advisor to the ALI Model Penal Code: Sentencing.

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