12/25/2012 10:17 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Jerry Brown Pardons 79 Convicted Criminals In Time For The Holidays

In what is becoming an annual holiday season event, Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday granted pardons for 79 convicted criminals.

Roughly 75 percent of the pardons announced by the administration involved drug crimes, many of which carried no prison sentence. Other pardons involved more serious crimes: one conviction for involuntary manslaughter, four for grand theft, four for robbery and three for felony driving under the influence.

Most of the 79 clemency declarations followed a brief template noting Brown's recognition that the offender has "lived an honest and upright life" for at least 10 years.

A few of the pardons broke the boilerplate, however. Brown highlighted Newport Beach resident Thomas George Pfleger's support of "numerous charitable and philanthropic causes" in a preamble to pardoning of his crimes: possession of narcotics for sale in 1970, second-degree robbery in 1976 and being under the influence of a controlled substance in 1983.

Pfleger, 61, was last released from prison in 1986 and today is chairman of the Oceanside-based non-profit Pfleger Institute of Environmental Research. The institute has ties to a charitable foundation established by Pfleger's late father, U.S. Electric Motors founding partner George Pfleger.

Brown also noted that 79-year-old Frank E. Morino, who served five years for robbery after his sentencing in 1954, now volunteers at a senior center. And he pointed out that 76-year-old Leonard Wilson-Banks is a prison chaplain in Arkansas after doing time in the 1960s for robbery and drug possession.

Pardons don't erase a criminal record, but they do restore some of a convicted felon's constitutional entitlements including, under certain conditions, the right to posses firearms. Pardoned convicts may also serve on a jury and take jobs as probation or parole officers that aren't open to them otherwise.

End-of-year pardons and commutations have become something of a tradition for California governors -- and a source of criticism.

Shortly before leaving office, former GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger quietly cut short a manslaughter sentence for the son of a political ally, former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez.

A political firestorm exploded over the New Year's Eve commutation. In response, Brown signed Assembly Bill 648 in October that requires the governor to give at least 10 days' notice to officials in the jurisdiction where the crime occurred before commuting a sentence.

The governor has avoided similar controversy, while exercising his executive power to pardon more far more frequently than recent governors.

Last year Brown issued 21 pardons on Dec. 27, more than all the pardons Schwarzenegger granted in his seven-year term. Schwarzenegger's predecessor, Democrat Gray Davis, granted none.

Call Jon Ortiz, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1043. ___