For convicted spy Jonathan Pollard's first public appearance in 16 years, his father chose a back row seat.

Other supporters jammed the court's front rows, and some were turned away, as his lawyers tried Tuesday to help win Pollard an early release from his life sentence for selling military secrets to Israel.

Morris Pollard, 89, a cancer researcher and professor emeritus at the University of Notre Dame (search), said he has been estranged from his son for seven years and wanted to discreetly see how he was doing.

"I felt it was an obligation," he said. "He's not doing well, I can tell."

The younger Pollard looked heavier and grayer than the man who stood in the same courthouse and was sentenced to prison in 1987.

Jonathan Pollard nodded hello to spectators in the courtroom's front row, including his wife, and occasionally glanced into the crowd during the hearing.

He did not speak as his lawyers argued the government should be forced to turn over secret files that could help Pollard's request for clemency and that he should be allowed to continue a longshot legal campaign to overturn the sentence.

"Jonathan Pollard (search) is sitting here in court today. He asks only for justice and a fair sentencing, as guaranteed by our Constitution," attorney Jacques Semmelman said. "He has not had that."

Jewish leaders contend that he has been singled out for harsh punishment.

"I came to see and to hear how they do justice in America," Mordechai Eliyahu (search), a former chief rabbi for the state of Israel, said through an interpreter while standing in the rain outside the court.

Eliyahu said the second goal of his trip, "to take Jonathan back to Israel," would have to wait.

Pollard was caught in November 1985 and arrested after unsuccessfully seeking refuge at the Israeli Embassy. Pollard pleaded guilty and claims prosecutors reneged on a promise to seek a lesser sentence in return for his cooperation.

Government lawyers argued Tuesday that another judge was right to reject Pollard's claims and he should not be allowed to press the case further.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan did not immediately rule on the claims.

Pollard, 49, was a civilian intelligence analyst for the Navy when he gave to his Israeli handlers enough classified documents to fill a walk-in closet. He was not paid when his spying began in 1984, but acknowledged that Israel later began paying him a few thousand dollars a month.

His case has been a sticking point in U.S.-Israeli relations. The Israeli government, which granted Pollard citizenship, repeatedly has pressed for his release.

His case was reviewed by federal officials in 2000 but he was left off the list of those granted clemency just before then-President Clinton left office. CIA Director George Tenet had told Clinton he would quit if Pollard were freed.

The Israeli government has continued to press the issue with the Bush administration.

"We are using all our efforts to get him released," Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said Tuesday.

Pollard's appeal centers on whether his two previous lawyers did all they could to help him avoid or appeal his life sentence, and whether his new lawyers should be able to see classified material that may have helped sway the judge who sentenced Pollard.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Pelak said Pollard has not proven a need to know what is in the documents.