Gleeson Certificate enters “uncharted waters”

The New York Law Journal published an article over the weekend about the “novel relief” provided by the federal certificate of rehabilitation issued by former Judge John Gleeson on March 7, just days before he stepped down from the bench.  A reproduction of the certificate reveals its official appearance, complete with court seal and signatures of Judge Gleeson and the Chief U.S. Probation Officer.


The government has until April 7 to appeal – the very day its appeal of Judge Gleeson’s expungement order in his first Jane Doe case will be argued in the Second Circuit.  The jurisdictional issues presented by the certificate order may be similar, if only because the certificate has some effect under state law.  See N.Y. Correct. Law §§ 703(7), 752, both cited in Judge Gleeson’s opinion.  It is likely that others similarly situated will apply for similar relief.

The text of the NYLJ article follows:

While a federal judge declined to expunge a woman’s fraud conviction, he devised his own certificate meant to prove her rehabilitation to employers, landlords and others.

Eastern District Judge John Gleeson said he could not provide Jane Doe with her sought-after remedy of expunging her 2002 conviction, but gave her a “lesser form of relief” through his issuance of a certificate of rehabilitation where he said he recommended Doe “for employment, housing, benefits and other opportunities as a full participant in society.”

Though certificates of rehabilitation exist in New York and several other states and are generally meant to relieve certain licensing, employment and benefit barriers that attach to convictions, there is no statutory counterpart in the federal system.

In Doe v. United States of America, 15-mc-1174, Gleeson said the certificate, also signed by the Eastern District’s chief probation officer, memorialized his conclusions for Doe’s future employers.

“I hope they will give my careful consideration of Doe’s current suitability for employment significant weight, and conclude that it far outweighs the effect of her aberrant criminal conduct all those years ago,” Gleeson wrote in his March 7 decision, just days before he stepped down from the bench to join Debevoise & Plimpton.

And if Doe’s attorneys chose to seek a presidential pardon, “I believe the certificate will help her make a strong case.”

“The federal system has much to gain from adopting a certification system similar to those states,” Gleeson wrote.

The 32-page ruling is not Gleeson’s first analysis of the jurisprudence surrounding expungement.

Though the petitioner in the current matter was able to find intermittent nursing work and start her own cleaning business, Gleeson last year granted expungement to another woman whose job prospects were crippled following her conviction for a minor role in a fraud scheme.

Gleeson said at the time that he “sentenced her to five years of probation supervision, not to a lifetime of unemployment” (NYLJ, June 3, 2015).

Prosecutors in the Eastern District U.S. Attorney’s Office are appealing the decision. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is scheduled to hear arguments on April 7.

Other judges have wrestled with expungement requests. For example, Gleeson’s Eastern District colleague, Judge Raymond Dearie, said he regretted he could not erase the conviction of a woman who “turned her life around” and urged prosecutors, judges and Congress to re-think expungement laws (NYLJ, Oct. 15, 2015).

In the current case before Gleeson, Doe was passenger in a staged car accident scheme.

In 2002, a jury found her guilty of conspiring to commit and committing health care and mail fraud.

Doe’s adjusted income was less than $15,000 in the two years before the offense, according to her pre-sentence report. She was also raising two children by herself with $80 a week in child support from the father.

Gleeson ultimately imposed an 11-month sentence and almost $7,500 in restitution.

When Doe was released from prison in 2004, she went through periods of employment and unemployment in the nursing field.

Due to the conviction, her state nursing license was suspended in 2006 for two years, with the second year stayed, as well as two years of probation.

When the suspension ended, Doe went back to work.

Gleeson noted that Doe applied unsuccessfully to a number of nursing agencies, some of which mentioned the conviction, but others did not.

In 2014, Doe started her own house-cleaning business and managed to make some money while she applied to other nursing agencies.

Doe first moved to expunge the conviction in 2008 and Gleeson denied the bid. In 2013, he denied her effort to vacate the conviction.

Doe filed the instant bid last year, invoking Gleeson’s prior expungement decision, which he had released approximately a month earlier.

“The government might have responded by engaging in an effort to help Doe seek employment,” said Gleeson, noting how other U.S. Attorney’s offices across the country were taking steps like hosting employment fairs and holding community re-entry forums.

But the prosecution instead opted to oppose, Gleeson said.

He invited attorney Margaret Colgate Love, co-author of “Collateral Consequences of a Criminal Conviction: Law, Policy and Practice” to submit an amicus brief addressing issues including whether he was authorized to enter a certificate of rehabilitation.

In the filing, Love, represented by Jones Day, said while there was no federal law permitting the issuance of a federal certificate of rehabilitation, there were “two mechanisms, each perhaps underappreciated but with deep historical roots, by which the court may recognize an individual’s rehabilitation.”

One was a so-called writ of audita querela, enabling the reopening of a judgment in “extraordinary circumstances” through the All Writs Act of 1789. The other was the recommendation of a clemency grant to the president.

In his ruling, Gleeson said there was “no reason to issue such a writ here because Doe has not requested that I vacate her judgment entirely, but rather that I delete the record of it.”

He also waved off the prosecution’s argument that he lacked the jurisdiction to hear the motion.

He noted the Second Circuit’s expungement standard said it should be used only for “the unusual or extreme case” —a standard that “unfortunately” was not met here.

He said there were reasons apart from the conviction that Doe lost jobs or had been declined offers “including patient complaints and the usual ebb and flow of clientele.”

Though acknowledging she “struggled considerably,” Gleeson said he was not clear how expungement would significantly help her. Her conviction would st