WASHINGTON – Convicted spy Jonathan Pollard (search) lost another round Friday in his long-shot effort to overturn his life sentence for selling military secrets to Israel while working as an intelligence analyst for the Navy.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (search) ruled that Pollard waited too long to try to contest his 1987 sentence and rejected his claim that he was a victim of poor legal advice.
The court also said it had no authority to review Pollard's request to see classified documents the Reagan administration submitted to the judge who imposed the sentence 18 years ago. Pollard's lawyers said the material was critical to his appeal and any request for presidential clemency.
Pollard's attorney, Eliot Lauer, said he was "very disappointed" with the opinion and may file a request for rehearing from the full appeals court or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court (search).
"We hope that in time the American judicial system will give Jonathan Pollard his rightful day in court and that justice will be done," Lauer said.
The Justice Department (search) declined to comment on the ruling.
Pollard, who turns 51 next month, was a civilian intelligence analyst for the Navy when he copied and gave thousands of classified documents to his Israeli handlers. He was not paid when his spying began in 1984, but acknowledged that Israel later began paying him a few thousand dollars a month.
He was caught in November 1985 and arrested after unsuccessfully seeking refuge at the Israeli embassy. Pollard initially denied he worked for Israel but later acknowledged it. He claims prosecutors reneged on a promise to seek a lesser sentence in return for his cooperation.
Pollard's 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 defenders say Pollard's sentence, being served at the federal prison in Butner, N.C., is much harsher than warranted considering he passed the documents to a U.S. ally.
Pollard faulted his original lawyer for not appealing or otherwise contesting his sentence. He thought he had a deal to receive government support for a shorter sentence, but claims the Reagan administration helped persuade a judge to put him behind bars for the rest of his life.
Writing for a three-judge panel, Judge David Sentelle rejected as "nonsensical" the argument that Pollard did not realize the alleged mistake by his lawyer at the time.
"Pollard knew the facts," Sentelle said. "What he now claims not to have known is the legal significance of these facts."
The legal challenge to Pollard's sentence was always viewed as a long shot, and his supporters have focused much of their effort on winning presidential clemency.
Lauer said Pollard does not have a formal request for clemency pending with the Bush administration. Federal officials reviewed his case in 2000, but he was left off the list of those granted clemency just before President Clinton left office.
Pollard's lawyers want to see classified documents that may have helped sway the judge who sentenced Pollard, including a declaration from then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger (search) outlining the security damage Pollard caused.
"We believe that Mr. Pollard's security-cleared counsel has an absolute need for this information and that the clemency process would be materially enhanced were Pollard's counsel to obtain access to this material," Lauer said.