Kansas Governor Sam Brownback said Tuesday that he issued a single pardon and denied 72 other requests for clemency.
The action comes as Brownback prepares for a likely departure to join the administration of President Donald Trump.
In a statement, Brownback said he is pardoning Mark Schmitt, who was convicted of felony theft in 1994 over a false insurance claim of about $1,500. The Prisoner Review Board had recommended clemency.
“He has demonstrated he is a man of character, having already paid his debt to society, having had his criminal record expunged, and having worked through the process of requesting a pardon, and proving the worthiness of his request at every step,” Brownback said.
Brant Laue, the governor’s chief counsel, called the pardon unprecedented in recent memory. In an interview Tuesday, Laue said it was the first pardon granted by a Republican Kansas governor in decades and only the ninth pardon granted since 1993.
“It’s perhaps the most extraordinary power of the governor in the Kansas Constitution,” Laue said. “Only one out of 73 seems like a very small number, but I think that’s reflective of what a significant power of the governor it is and how it should only be exercised sparingly.”
Brownback had a personal interview with Schmitt and later decided to issue the pardon, according to Laue.
Pardons also have not been common with recent Democratic Kansas governors. Kathleen Sebelius issued one and Mark Parkinson issued four.
Staff in Brownback’s office said he denied almost 100 pardon requests in 2013. In total, Brownback has rejected 166 requests and only approved the single pardon issued Tuesday.
The Prisoner Review Board recommended at least one additional application be considered for clemency. Laue believes the board has recommended clemency in multiple cases in recent years, but he said the governor’s office also conducts additional research and vetting. He wouldn’t comment on why other requests weren’t approved.
The governor’s office provided names and the courts that convicted the other 72 people who requested clemency, but additional information was not immediately available.
Laue said a recommendation from the Prisoner Review Board for clemency doesn’t automatically mean the governor will follow the recommendation.
“Once the file comes to the governor’s office, it’s left entirely to his discretion,” Laue said. “Which is why we spend so much time, effort and work so hard … to make sure we’re doing it right.”
Before Tuesday’s announcement, Brownback’s office hinted that it would be something “unprecedented.” That led to wide speculation on social media that it would be a major policy announcement.
Brownback has been nominated to be Trump’s ambassador for international religious freedom. He’s still waiting for Senate confirmation but has said he’ll step down as governor if he’s confirmed.
During a recent U.S. Senate hearing on his nomination, Brownback faced praise and some pointed questions. His nomination is awaiting a vote in the committee and the full Senate.
Laue said other pardon applications are being considered by the governor’s office. Any that haven’t been closed when Brownback steps down would be forwarded for consideration by Lieutenant Governor Jeff Colyer, who will take over as governor.