’My life is back’: SLO woman receives rare governor’s pardon for minor drug offense

‘Pretty soon it will be a gerontology ward’ Gov. Brown on the commutations he is considering

In an interview with The Bee on Dec. 18, 2018, Gov. Jerry Brown discusses why he has granted so many commutations in recent years. Another large batch could be granted before his term comes to a close in January.
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In an interview with The Bee on Dec. 18, 2018, Gov. Jerry Brown discusses why he has granted so many commutations in recent years. Another large batch could be granted before his term comes to a close in January.

San Luis Obispo resident Laurie Gardner thought her application for a pardon of a minor drug offense might go to the bottom of the stack when former Gov. Jerry Brown left office this year.

But she received a surprising phone call two weeks after re-applying for executive clemency to newly elected Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration.

“She said, ‘I just want you to know, congratulations, your pardon has been granted,’” Gardner said by phone Thursday afternoon, describing a call she received from a Newsom staffer informing her of the news. “I said, ‘Oh my God, my life is back.’”

As the disbelief that her years-long efforts to leave behind a minor drug offense from the early 2000s began to fade, she exclaimed to the woman on the other end: “If I could hug you through the phone, I would.”

Newsom’s office announced Thursday that it issued seven executive pardons, including one for Gardner, who is only the second San Luis Obispo County resident to receive a governor’s pardon in more than five years.

California residents convicted of a crime can apply for a pardon from the Governor’s Office once the applicant has completed probation or parole without any further criminal convictions and has received a Certificate of Rehabilitation from the court.

Although anyone with a criminal conviction can apply, governors historically grant very few pardons.

Courtesy of Laurie Gardner/Facebook

A San Luis Obispo Superior Court docket shows that Gardner, 41, pleaded no contest in September 2004 to a felony count of possession of a controlled substance for sale. She was sentenced to four years of probation without any jail time and had to comply with various court requirements including community service, which she completed, according to records.

Gardner said Thursday that since she paid her debt to society, she has obtained her associate’s degree and later a bachelor’s from Cal Poly in social sciences with a concentration in criminal justice.

She became interested in a job at the county Probation Department, but couldn’t make it past the door due to the conviction, which prevented her from possessing a firearm.

“I still had this thing lingering over me,” Gardner said. “I just wanted it cleared. Period. But it was a process.”

That process included hiring a good attorney, who steered her through the paperwork and requirements needed to successfully petition the Superior Court to dismiss the conviction. Superior Court Judge Michael Duffy set aside her conviction in May 2012, records show.

As part of the process, she also had to solicit more than a dozen letters of recommendation to submit to the state, she said.

The Governor’s Office said in a news release Wednesday that Gardner complied with provisions under state law that “provide a procedure after completion of sentence to seek restoration of civic rights and responsibilities, and apply for a pardon.”

The San Luis Obispo Superior Court granted Gardner a Certificate of Rehabilitation in September 2017 on evidence that she has been living “an upright life.”

The Governor’s Office approved her pardon Wednesday.

Executive clemency does not erase the record of conviction, but it does restore other rights. A pardoned person may serve on a jury and own a gun (for nonviolent offenders). A pardon also allows a felon to seek a job as a county probation officer or state parole agent.

Gardner said her official certificate of clemency is getting framed and going straight up on her wall. She said she’s still searching for the right career — one that has an element of helping others — and hopes her recent honor will help.

She added that she wanted to thank her San Luis Obispo-based attorney, Peter Depew, who she said started walking her through the process the first day they met.

“He was really on top of it,” she said.

Gardner’s is the second pardon of a local since 2014, when Clark Guest was issued clemency for a 1997 burglary he committed to feed his then-addiction to drugs.

Guest is now San Luis Obispo County’s program supervisor at the Health Agency’s Drug and Alcohol Services, where he helps residents overcome their own addictions.

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Matt Fountain is The San Luis Obispo Tribune’s courts and investigations reporter. A San Diego native, Fountain graduated from Cal Poly’s journalism department in 2009 and cut his teeth at the San Luis Obispo New Times before joining The Tribune as a crime and breaking news reporter in 2014.