Convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard departs US District court after a hearing with his wife Elaine in the Manhattan borough of New York December 14, 2015..
(photo credit: LUCAS JACKSON / REUTERS)
NEW YORK – Ruling on former Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard’s appeal to the US District Court to ease the restrictive conditions of his parole from prison, Judge Katherine Forrest said the Parole Commission had indeed provided insufficient factual basis for these conditions and asked that it produces the necessary evidence to justify them.
“Until the commission weighs in, there is no way I will change the conditions,” Judge Forrest made clear.
She ordered the Parole Commission to assess whether it believed that Pollard, a former civilian intelligence analyst for the US Navy convicted of passing classified information to Israel, still possessed confidential information.
“If there is secret information Jonathan Pollard could disclose, the restrictive conditions could be necessary,” Forrest said. But if he does not, Forrest said, his conditions may need to be modified.
Forrest called her decision to send Pollard’s case back to the commission for further review “the first step” and said she thinks “this is the right step.”
Pollard’s attorney in the courtroom, Eliot Lauer, stressed that no one had ever suggested any information his client had remained sensitive three decades later.
But the US Justice Department argued the strict conditions were “reasonably related” to the circumstances underlying Pollard’s crime to ensure, among other things, that he does not disseminate classified information.
Rebecca Tinio, a Justice Department lawyer, said the “majority of the information Mr. Pollard had 30 years ago remains classified.”
Lauer challenged three of the restrictive probation conditions imposed on Pollard after his release from the Butner Federal Correctional Complex in North Carolina on November 20: the monitoring of both his home and work computers; the monitoring of his whereabouts via an electronic GPS anklet; and his 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. curfew.
Pollard’s defense argued that the computer monitoring condition is “unreasonable and unlawful” and constitutes an obstacle to his professional life. According to his attorneys, it puts in limbo a job offer he received from a New York investment firm. Lauer added that the matter is time sensitive and urged the court to find a rapid solution, so that Pollard can begin to work.
Judge Katherine Forrest seems to agree with this point and said, “The court cannot think of any job one could do without using a computer or the Internet.” She also pointed out that Pollard had never used the Internet since it did not exist at the time of his imprisonment.
For the GPS monitoring anklet, Lauer said it interferes with Pollard’s religious observances as the devices battery does not last for 25 hours, which means Pollard would need to charge it during Shabbat.
On this point, the representatives of the US attorney’s office said they can offer an alternative device with a more efficient battery life in order to accommodate Pollard.
On the last condition, the 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. curfew, Pollard’s lawyers also argued that it interferes with his religious practices as it prevents him from attending services at the synagogue.
They claim that both the GPS bracelet and the curfew are in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Judge Forrest said the court would not second guess these three parole conditions until it reviews more arguments from the commission, but also urged the commission and the government to work with Pollard to find ways to make his parole more comfortable for him.
The court also mentioned that if Pollard was to ever write a book on his story, the script would need to be reviewed by the Office of Naval Intelligence to make sure none of the information is still classified.
Before the hearing began, Pollard, wearing a black suit, a blue tie and a knitted yarmulke on his head, waited outside courtroom 15A of the US District Court on Pearl Street in Manhattan, his hands in his pockets. He was surrounded by Eliot Lauer and family members, including his wife, Esther Pollard, who made sure his blazer was in place before entering the room.
Inside, as Pollard and Lauer readied themselves before the judge, Esther Pollard, sitting on the back bench, took out a sheet with a small prayer printed on it in Hebrew and recited it silently.
The Pollards are not alone in their fight, as some US lawmakers and the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists expressed support for his appeal.
In the courtroom on Monday, no mention of Pollard’s desire to move to Israel was made.
As per the terms of his parole, Pollard has to check in regularly with a parole officer for a year and can be returned to prison for poor behavior.
Gil Hoffman and Reuters contributed to this report.