Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, in his final days in office, pardoned a wealthy “career drunk driver” in an effort to help the man seek a lucrative promotion, a move branded by Snyder's critics as a mockery of justice.
The then-governor swiftly approved Jim Jagger's application for a pardon last year. After filing it in October, Jagger got a hearing in December and was pardoned by Christmas – just before Snyder left office because of the state's term-limit laws.
Jagger had been senior vice president of the Michigan Association of Certified Public Accountants, earning $144,000 a year. He was slated to become the next president of the association that serves 18,000-plus members – including Snyder.
The Troy-based group offers career workshops, monitors industry trends and lobbies state lawmakers in Lansing to influence laws and accounting rules.
The Oakland County prosecutor opposed fast-tracking Jagger’s pardon, saying that the governor was giving “special treatment” for a “career drunk driver,” just because of the man’s status as a CPA.
It remains unclear why Snyder took the rare step of pardoning Jagger, after having issued fewer than 100 pardons over his eight years in office. But records obtained by the Associated Press indicate that it was a top priority.
Jagger had four drunken-driving convictions from 1989 to 2007. While such offenses are typically a misdemeanor, his repeat offenses meant he was facing a felony charge after the most recent arrest.
He was convicted as a result of the crimes and was sentenced 135 days in jail, with Judge Michael Warren calling him a “danger to the public.” Jagger served the sentence but thanks to the pardon, the felony conviction was erased from his record.
The Michigan Association of CPAs released a statement on Facebook regarding Jagger and the pardon following the news reports, insisting that the pardon had nothing to do with Snyder’s ties to the group.
“Our association represents CPAs in our great state, and while former Governor Snyder is a member and a supporter, the pardon granted by his office to one of our employees had nothing to do with his status, nor with a relationship,” the statement signed by president Peggy Dzierzawski reads.
“I’ve not yet formally announced my retirement, and when I do, a search committee will be appointed by our board of directors and will obtain a search firm. All candidates will go through the same just process before being considered for the role of President & CEO,” she added.
Records show that Jagger said during a December pardon hearing that he was a “leading candidate” to become the president of the CPA, yet the felony conviction would make him a less desirable candidate.
“I have a limited window of earning potential left, and I'm trying to maximize that. ... But even if it's not that opportunity, there will be other opportunities or I could actively pursue a job,” Jagger said.
“The me of 14, 15 years ago wouldn't imagine that I would have the life that I have now,” Jagger added. "So regardless of the outcome of this, I'm a fairly lucky, blessed person.”
His testimony prompted the parole board to recommend his pardon to the governor in a vote of 9-1. Chris Gautz, a spokesman at the Corrections Department, told the outlet that while the board was never pressured to vote in a specific way, their vote doesn’t really matter “because the governor can pardon anyone he wishes.”
Still, many have suspected favoritism in Snyder’s decision to pardon Jagger, who didn’t have any particular special qualities except for being wealthy and well-connected.
“The term 'justice is blind' is meant to reaffirm the core concept of the criminal justice system; that all people are equal in the eyes of the law, regardless of how rich or poor they are, and regardless of how powerful or powerless they are in society,” prosecutor Jessica Cooper said last year in a letter to the parole board.
“Granting Mr. Jagger's pardon request ... would make a mockery of this concept,” she added.
Democrat Gretchen Whitmer became Michigan's governor on Jan. 1 after being elected in November.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.