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  • LEZLIE STERLING / lsterling@sacbee.com

    Sandena Bader, owner of a flower and gift shop in Rocklin, was one of 21 people granted pardons last year by Gov. Jerry Brown.

  • LEZLIE STERLING / lsterling@sacbee.com

    Sandena Bader calls her decades-old drug conviction a "really shameful time in my life," and says she hasn't been in trouble since then. Her New Year's Eve pardon "was like a huge brick was lifted off my chest."

Gov. Jerry Brown handing out more pardons

Published: Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Sunday, Feb. 12, 2012 - 2:34 pm

Andre Mouton plans to write Gov. Jerry Brown a thank you.

He might like to run for elected office one day, and the pardon Brown gave him – one of 21 granted last year – could make his years-old burglary conviction less awkward to explain.

"It's kind of like a degree," said Mouton, 51, a youth mentor in Oakland. "You've been forgiven."

Brown is more inclined than previous governors to forgive. Pardons announced by the Democratic governor this week total more in one year than Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger granted in seven. Schwarzenegger's predecessor, Gray Davis, granted none.

The newly pardoned class includes a flower shop owner, a property maintenance supervisor and a conservationist, all convicted of drug or property crimes for which they were sentenced decades ago.

"It was the '60s, right? I got caught with some dope, and back then you got busted hard for it," said David Katz, who went on to become executive director of the Sonoma Land Trust after being convicted of transporting and selling drugs. "I used to smoke a bunch of pot, and I got caught."

Katz wanted to "clear it off, just wrap up that whole chapter in my life."

For years he waited.

After former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis was pummeled in the 1988 presidential race by an ad featuring released killer Willie Horton, "people with political ambitions just stopped doing anything because the risks were too great to them," said Floyd Feeney, a criminal law professor at the University of California, Davis.

Katz suggested Schwarzenegger, who on his way out of office controversially commuted the sentence of a former Assembly speaker's son, may have "had some other priorities about who he wanted to pardon," too.

The executive pardon is a centuries-old tradition that the state of California calls a "distinct achievement" granted only to people who have led a "useful, productive and law-abiding life following conviction."

Schwarzenegger commuted 10 sentences during his tenure and pardoned 16 people. In his first year, Brown commuted no sentences. His pardons were all for people long ago discharged from prison or parole.

Press Secretary Gil Duran said "Brown's philosophy on pardons is similar to Gov. Reagan's. Rehabilitation is an important factor. Some people make mistakes but work for years to create a better life for themselves and others, and such efforts deserve recognition."

Chris Witham, who was convicted of selling cocaine in the early 1980s, said he "almost cried" when the manila envelope containing his pardon arrived.

"Finally, it's all done," said Witham, who is 50 and works in post-production in the entertainment industry in Southern California. "It's all in the past, and you know, I don't have to walk around thinking that there's something in my past that I need to be ashamed of anymore."

A pardon does not seal a criminal record. But it does allow an ex-felon to be employed as a parole or probation officer and, in most cases, to own a gun. It can be useful when applying for a job.

"You're going to admit that you had a drug sales (conviction)," said Laritha Vaughn, who became a drug counselor after being convicted in the 1990s of selling cocaine. "But when they see that you did everything humanly possible to set this straight, it's another way to get your foot through the door."

Vaughn, who lives in Paramount and is studying to be a marriage and family therapist, said when she heard from Brown's office, she was "totally floored."

So was Sandena Bader, owner of Poison Ivy Flowers and Gifts in Rocklin.

Bader said she was 20 years old when she was convicted in the 1980s of drug-related criminal conspiracy, a "really shameful time in my life."

"It's always been a dark cloud that's followed me around," Bader said. "Never, ever since then have I ever been in trouble. Not even a traffic ticket. Nothing. Ever."

Bader became an advocate for children with behavioral and mental health problems, but her conviction occasionally came up, and in 2010 she said it cost her a job.

"After that, I went on a mission," Bader said. "I hired an attorney to help me. I said, 'I need to validate my life. … I'm not going to let somebody take all this away from me based on this one thing.'"

On the advice of her lawyer, she waited for Schwarzenegger to leave office before she applied.

"The morning I received the pardon, it was Dec. 31, the last day of the year, and I was at a crossroads in my life," Bader said. "Just opening it that day, it was like a huge brick was lifted off my chest. I felt validated. I've earned this. My work has proved that I am a good person."

Valentine's Day is approaching, and Bader was preparing at her flower shop to take delivery of about 5,000 roses.

She said, "It's going really well."

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by David Siders



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