Just two weeks before the release of his pro bono client, Jonathan Pollard, New York lawyer Eliot Lauer is hopeful that US President Barack Obama will grant the convicted spy his biggest wish: to move to Israel.
The former civilian Navy analyst was given a life sentence in 1987 for espionage for Israel. He was granted citizenship by the Jewish state 20 years ago.
Following the 15 years of lobbying US government since they took on the Pollard case, Lauer and his partner Jacques Semmelman announced in July that the Parole Commission had decided to set Pollard free on November 20 — after some 30 years in prison.
One question that remains is where Pollard will go upon his release.
“President Obama … has the authority … to allow Mr. Pollard to leave the United States and move to Israel immediately. We respectfully urge the president to exercise his clemency power in this manner,” Lauer and Semmelman said in a written statement issued July 28.
That day, a White House spokesman announced that Obama had no intention of altering Pollard’s terms of parole, which state that he must not leave the US for five years. The White House said Pollard had committed “very serious crimes” and would serve his sentence under the law.
The Parole Commission’s decision to finally release Pollard — following 15 years of commutation requests made to consecutive US presidents — was not easy, Lauer told The Times of Israel in Jerusalem.
“The Parole Commission spent a lot of time inquiring about the job we lined up for Pollard, and his housing,” Lauer said, noting that the Jewish community in New York has mobilized to help the former spy integrate back into normal life.
“One of the inspiring elements of representing Pollard was that no one we turned to for help turned us down,” Lauer said, adding that those most interested in assisting Pollard find housing and employment in New York come from the “Orthodox or semi-Orthodox community.”
Following his release next month, Pollard will need to report to a probation officer for a period of up to a year. Lauer said his office is conducting ongoing correspondence with the Parole Commission to ease Pollard’s restrictions as a free man.
“We would hope that there would eventually be no restrictions other than checking in periodically for the principle of supervised parole,” Lauer said. “Restrictions need to be case specific and related to the crime,” he added, noting that Pollard no longer poses a threat to US security.
Lauer, head of the litigation department at Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle LLP, said he decided to represent Pollard in April 2000, sensing that the former analyst had been treated unjustly by the American legal system and had received sub-par representation from his previous lawyers.
“He was abandoned,” Lauer said. “By now, he has served four times longer than anyone convicted for a similar offense. The whole sentencing process was unjust and unfair.”
‘He was abandoned,’ Lauer said. ‘By now, he has served four times longer than anyone convicted for a similar offense. The whole sentencing process was unjust and unfair’
As part of a plea agreement offered to Pollard in May 1986, he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to deliver national defense information to a foreign government, without intent to harm the US. But the following year he was sentenced to life in prison after a statement penned by Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger argued that he had significantly hurt the morale of his department and harmed US ties with its Arab allies.
“The quality of the harm the United States sustained was not devastating as was the case with Russian spies,” Lauer told The Times of Israel. “Much of the information Pollard provided the Israelis had previously been provided by the US, which stopped doing so to punish Israel for bombing the Osirak reactor in Iraq in 1981.”
Despite having secured housing for Pollard in New York, Lauer said his client is still pleading to join his wife Esther in Israel upon his release.
“He wants to make a contribution,” Lauer said. “He has lots of significant ideas.”
The next pro bono ‘case’
With the Pollard case and its 10,000 hours of logged pro bono work behind him, Lauer now dedicates much of his spare time to help another cause close to his heart: an Israeli organization that provides care for blind children with multiple disabilities, and is struggling to survive.
Founded in Jerusalem in the early 1970s, Keren Or is the only center of its kind in the Jewish world to treat blind children suffering from an addition physical or cognitive impairment. A new hydrotherapy center established at Keren Or’s Ramot premises five years ago provides children with unique programming that develops their skills, Lauer said.
But a drop in donations from bequests has left Keren Or in a budget shortfall over the past two years, Lauer said, and therefore needs further financial support. Generous givers are needed to ensure the quality of the center’s work is maintained, he added, inviting those interested to visit its campus and be a part of the Keren Or family.
Does his volunteer work for Pollard and for Jerusalem’s disabled children have anything in common? Lauer answers in the affirmative.
“I always used to ask my children when they returned from school: ‘What have you done today for the Jewish people?'”