As The BLT noted, Charles Winters was given a rare posthumous pardon yesterday — only the second such pardon on record. And local lawyers played an important part.
Winters, a Boston-born Protestant businessman, interjected himself in the fight for a Jewish state by selling decommissioned bombers to the Haganah resistance group. Winters, who was sentenced in 1949 and served 18 months in prison for violating the Neutrality Act of 1939, became a hero among Israelis. He died in 1984 at the age of 71.
One of the key lawyers involved in the pardon request was Reginald Brown of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr’s D.C. office. Brown says that he and the firm got involved after being sought out by Frank Jimenez, the general counsel of the Navy. Jimenez knew Winters’ son, Jimmy, and had heard the story of Jimmy’s father. Jimenez thought President George W. Bush might find it interesting, but he needed more resources to make a compelling pardon argument. So, Jimenez went to Wilmer, and the firm started working on the project in July.
Brown says that the project attracted broad support, including assistance from Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.); Bruce Ramer, an entertainment lawyer with a strong connection to the California Jewish community; and evangelical and Southern Baptist groups. Wilmer lawyers involved included partners Jamie Gorelick and Jay Urwitz and associate Gina Haschke, who played a major role, along with this summer’s associate class, in conducting massive amounts of research, including regular trips to the National Archives.
“We had to reconstruct what actually happened,” says Brown. “This was really more of a history assignment than a legal brief exercise.”
The news of Winters’ pardon spread fast. Brown says he received a call this morning from one of Winters’ relatives -- who Brown didn’t even know existed –- who was in tears and just wanted to say, ‘thank you.’
“At the time, the country was grappling with anti-Semitism and there wasn’t anywhere near the kind of support for the state of Israel that there is today,” Brown says. “Today Charlie would not have had to do what he did. The law lagged at the time. Charlie did the right thing and took the punishment. But the law has caught up with history.”