By CHARLIE SAVAGE
Published: December 3, 2010
WASHINGTON — For the first time since taking office nearly two years ago, President Obama exercised his clemency powers on Friday by granting pardons to nine people.
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.For the most part, the cases were for small-scale offenses committed many years ago. Six of the nine people had served only probation for their convictions.
“The president was moved by the strength of the applicants’ postconviction efforts at atonement, as well as their superior citizenship and individual achievements in the years since their convictions,” said Reid Cherlin, a White House spokesman.
All nine had applied for pardons through the normal review process at the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney, which had recommended that the president grant clemency in each case, the department said.
By making his first clemency grants 682 days into his presidency, Mr. Obama narrowly avoided surpassing former President George W. Bush’s record for the longest wait for a presidential pardon, according to data compiled by P. S. Ruckman Jr., a political science professor at Rock Valley College in Rockford, Ill., and the editor of the Pardon Power blog. Mr. Bush issued his first set of pardons in late December of his second year as president.
Margaret Colgate Love, a former United States pardon attorney who now represents clemency seekers, said she was pleased the wait was over.
“I’m very glad he’s gotten started, and I hope that he will look seriously at the hundreds of cases that are awaiting his consideration,” she said.
Samuel T. Morison, a former staff attorney in the pardon office who left recently after 13 years, said the small-scale nature of the first round of grants suggested that the Obama administration would continue the “conservative” approach under Mr. Bush.
“While I’m sure the grantees are all grateful, as they should be, this reflects the department’s continuing program to reserve pardon only for old and minor offenses, as they did in the Bush administration, as opposed to anyone who can demonstrate genuine rehabilitation and/or need for relief,” Mr. Morison said.
Four cases involved cocaine-related offenses: Timothy James Gallagher of Navasota, Tex., who was sentenced to three years’ probation in 1982; Roxane Kay Hettinger of Powder Springs, Ga., who was sentenced to 30 days in jail and three years’ probation in 1986; Edgar Leopold Kranz Jr. of Minot, N.D., who served 24 months in a military brig following a court-martial in 1994; and Floretta Leavy of Rockford, Ill., who was sentenced in 1984 to a year and a day in prison and three years on special parole.
None of the others pardoned Friday served any time for their convictions, according to a White House release.
They were: James Bernard Banks of Liberty, Utah, who was sentenced to two years’ probation in 1972 for illegal possession of government property; Russell James Dixon of Clayton, Ga., who received two years’ probation for a felony liquor law violation in 1960; Laurens Dorsey of Syracuse, N.Y., who was sentenced to five years’ probation and restitution of $71,000 for making false statements to the Food and Drug Administration in 1998; Ronald Lee Foster of Beaver Falls, Pa., who was sentenced to a year of probation and a $20 fine for mutilating coins in 1963; and Scoey Lathaniel Morris of Crosby, Tex., who was sentenced to three years’ probation and restitution of $1,200 for passing counterfeit bills in 1999.
In October, Mr. Obama denied 605 petitions for a commuted sentence and 71 requests for a pardon. Late last month, he denied 552 commutation petitions and 60 pardon requests.
A version of this article appeared in print on December 4, 2010, on page A12 of the New York edition.