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Bill would make pardons easier

A Suquamish man seeking to overturn a domestic violence conviction has become the impetus for a bill designed to vacate such convictions and offer pardons in certain cases.

The bill, House Bill 2087, is co-sponsored by 26th District Rep. Pat Lantz (D-Gig Harbor) and Rep. Kelli Linville (D-Bellingham) and it allows for clearing the record in qualifying misdemeanor domestic violence convictions.

Doug Perry, 49, admittedly violated two no-contact orders in 1998 during an acrimonious divorce. He said his breaking the rules in this case had to do with what has become a common occurrence in such situations, where emotions can eclipse common sense.

But he points to two facts in his favor — violence was not part of the initial incident and his ex-wife has written a statement for support in his case.

Many people, having served their time, would seek to expunge a conviction just to have the government acknowledge receipt for the paid societal debt. Those affected by this bill have a bit more at stake.

Perry’s conviction prevents him from working in his chosen field, that of a high school coach.

“I’m a good coach,” he said. “I made a mistake, and my ex-wife took advantage of it. I can take responsibility for that. But it’s ludicrous for me to get tagged with a domestic violence charge, especially when it keeps me from doing what I do best.”

Perry is scheduled to appear in front of the state pardon board on March 11. Should the board grant his request, the violation would still come up in a search, as would the pardon notation. As it stands, the conviction prevents Perry from getting a coaching job anywhere in the country.

Perry also said he was initially advised by his attorneys that the violation could be expunged after five years. On the basis of this advice, he declined to fight the no-contact order at the time, since it would cause more pain for his children.

Upon finding out the order could not be expunged at the end of the five-year period, Perry decided to request a pardon.“I got some really bad advice,” he said. “If I had known the truth at the time, I would have acted differently. Going after a pardon is the only thing I can do now.”

Perry’s pardon application, which he completed just prior to the February deadline, is unique in at least one respect. While it contains the requisite documents, references and exhibits, it is tied together with a handwritten cover letter.

“I didn’t have the time or the money to do it any other way,” he said. “I lost the computer in the divorce.“

The application’s most eloquent document is a detailed letter from Perry’s ex-wife, who now lives in Minnesota, asking for favorable consideration of the pardon.

“Today’s youth have so few role models they can trust,” Cheryl Perry wrote. “Doug has a heart for kids and has skill in relating to and working with them. He is not a perfect man, he has made his share of mistakes, but it is my opinion that none of them should preclude him from doing what he loves — teaching, coaching and influencing today’s youth in a positive way.”

According to Richard Mitchell, general counsel for the governor’s office, the pardon and clemency board hears questions about shortening or ending sentences, having convictions stricken from the record or having one’s civil rights restored. Upon receiving an application, the five-member board will decide its merits and contact the local prosecuting attorney if they feel the case has some merit.

Perry has passed this hurdle. The board contacted Kitsap County Prosecuting Attorney Russ Hauge. In a cover letter for documents sent to the pardon board, Hauge noted, “It would appear that Mr. Perry’s case may warrant the privilege of a pardon.

“In a domestic violence case if it looks like someone has been on the straight and narrow for a while there is no reason to oppose it,” Hauge said.

Perry also received an endorsement from a Poulsbo pastor, Chris Ritter of the Anglican Church of St. Charles.

“Doug is really gifted when he is working with young people,” he said. “He has a good heart and a lot of integrity.”

This bill has its supporters in the legal community. Port Orchard attorney Tim Kelly, an experienced public defender, said sensitivity to domestic violence has to do with the political climate, and has resulted in sentencing inequities.

“You can commit a second-degree residential burglary and have that expunged, but you can’t get rid of something like this,” he said.

While Perry’s crusade is personal, he insists his efforts are directed outward. He wants to resolve his own situation, but also feels the need to speak out so others in the same situation aren’t branded for life.

“I have a good job now,” Perry said. “I like what I do and I get a feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day. I help people and make a difference. But I’m not a cubicle guy. I want to do something different. I have the intelligence and drive to do more.”

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