AUGUSTA, Maine – The former governor of Maine pardoned two people in his last days in office without going through the traditional process of consulting the clemency board and holding a public hearing, according to the state’s corrections department.
Maine’s Constitution says the governor has the sole power to grant reprieves, pardons and commutations, so former Gov. Paul LePage did not break the law in pardoning his late mentor’s grandson, Jeremy Mills, and a former GOP lawmaker, Jeff Pierce.
But he broke with tradition: Leonard Sharon, who served as chairman of the Governor’s Board of Executive Clemency until June, said he never saw a governor grant a pardon without a board recommendation and a public hearing during his 27-year tenure, which ended in mid-2018.
“The process is very open and the pardon board carefully weighs applications and holds hearings when we feel there are substantial circumstances,” Sharon said.
Sharon said the hearings give people a chance to speak against pardons.
Marshall Tinkle, a Portland attorney and author of the history book “The Maine State Constitution,” said he also is not aware of any other governors who have pardoned without a public hearing.
“However, I’m not aware of any requirement that a governor hold a hearing,” Tinkle said in an email. “The pardon power is quite extensive.”
The state doesn’t keep up-to-date records of pardons granted without hearings by past governors, according to the Secretary of State’s office. Spokeswoman Kristen Muszynski said Friday that the office would have to go back through physical pardon materials to confirm whether hearings were held.
The state released the list of LePage’s pardons following a public records request by The Associated Press. An analysis by the AP indicated 60% of 240 pardons for 112 people were for minor crimes – the oldest of which happened in 1960.
LePage, a Republican, pardoned Pierce, a supporter who state records show donated at least $270 to LePage’s reelection campaign, and Mills, whose late grandfather mentored and sheltered a young LePage when he ran away from home to escape abuse.
Pierce had convictions for drug possession and felony drug trafficking dating back to 1981 and 1983. Mills was convicted of operating under the influence in 2012 and driving with a suspended or revoked license in 2003.
Neither was reviewed by the clemency board or given a public hearing before the pardons were granted on Jan. 2, LePage’s last day in office, according to Department of Corrections Director of Strategic Initiatives Anna Black and Adult Community Corrections Director Susan Gagnon. The Portland Press Herald originally reported that Pierce was pardoned without a public hearing.
LePage’s representatives, Mills and Pierce didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Sharon, the former clemency board chairman, said the pardon process usually begins with an individual submitting an application. Then, typically, the three-person board decides whether to give applicants a hearing. If not, the application is rejected.
“There aren’t that many hearings granted,” Sharon said. But when they are, the board then gives a recommendation to the governor.
State law requires Maine’s attorney general and local district attorneys to receive notice of such hearings, which also must be publicized in newspapers. But there is no such requirement when a hearing is not even held, as in the cases of Pierce and Mills.
Gagnon said there were no public notices for the pardons of Mills or Pierce. Gov. Janet Mills, who was attorney general at the time, and Marc Malon, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said they don’t recall being notified of the pardons.
The state at first declined to release the archived records of LePage’s pardons, even though past governors had released their high-profile pardons. But the Secretary of State’s office eventually released the pardon list in response to the AP’s public records request.
Gov. Mills, a Democrat, signed a March 15 executive order that said hearings on clemency petitions shall be open to the public “absent exceptional circumstances.”
The order also allows for the release of pardons upon request and subject to review by the administration.
She has also indicated she will handle pardons differently from her predecessor.
“As a general matter, the governor does not intend to grant pardons without a public hearing,” said Mills spokesman Scott Ogden.
Former Democratic Gov. John Baldacci issued 218 pardons to 141 people, while former independent Gov. Angus King, now a U.S. senator, issued 154 pardons to 100 people, the state says.
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