Thursday, October 24, 2019

Will Maine issue a pardon to the late tribal attorney Don Gellers?

Last week I covered the extraordinary pardon hearing for the late Don Gellers, the Passmaquoddy tribe's first attorney, who represented them successfully in matters ranging from racial discrimination in barber shops to police abuse and murder in the 1960s. Then he filed a treaty breach case that effectively started the tribe's land claim against Maine, and was arrested as he walked back into his home as part of an elaborate conspiracy involving the attorney general's office, the leadership of the Maine State Police and, at least tacitly, state judges. He fled the country in 1971 to avoid serving years in prison for the "constructive possession" of some joints allegedly found in the pocket of a jacket in his upstairs closet -- a charge that had already been decriminalized in the state.

You can read about the pardon hearing -- where one of the three pardon board members had to recuse himself because of his links to the case -- at the Portland Press Herald, and about the case in detail in the first thirteen chapters of the 29-part Press Herald series, "Unsettled." But I also spoke with Maine Public radio's Irwin Gratz for an interview that aired this morning and, presumably, again this evening during the local blocks within "All Things Considered."

Gellers died in October 2014, shortly after "Unsettled" concluded. Here's his obituary.

[Update, 1/10/20: Governor Janet Mills, a former Attorney General and career prosecutor, granted Gellers a full pardon and admonished the state's handling of the case.]

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