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Newsletter Vol 6 No 1

January 2024

Welcome, Caitlin!

We very excited to welcome Caitlin Mininger, Esq. in her new role as a PLSE Staff Attorney. Caitlin joined PLSE in December 2023 from the Public Defender’s Office of Lebanon County, Pennsylvania. A 2020 graduate of Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law, Caitlin gravitated to public interest and criminal law early in her legal career. While in law school, she volunteered for a semester with the Pennsylvania Innocence Project and worked as a certified legal intern for the Defender Association of Philadelphia from late spring 2019 to early spring 2020, first in the summer intern program and then in Drexel’s Criminal Litigation Field Clinic. She is excited to return to serve the Philadelphia community and support PLSE’s mission of building a more just legal system. 

Welcome to our New Board Members

Jeffrey N. Rosenthal, Esq

Charles M. Gibbs, Esq. 

We would also like to welcome most warmly Jeffrey N. Rosenthal, Esq. and Charles M. Gibbs, Esq. to the PLSE Board of Directors. 


Charles is a West Philadelphia native and attorney. A Member of McMonagle, Perri, McHugh, Mischak & Davis, Charles focuses his practice on criminal defense, family law, and election and municipal law matters. A prominent trial attorney with a devotion to public service, Mr. Gibbs is a past president of the Barristers’ Association of Philadelphia, the largest association of African American attorneys in Pennsylvania. Additionally, he is the co-chair of the City Policy Committee of the Philadelphia Bar Association. In 2023 Charles was named a Pennsylvania Super Lawyer and received the Barristers’ Association of Philadelphia J. Austin Norris Award. He is a graduate of West Catholic High School, and received his B.A. from Temple University and his J.D. from Widener University School of Law. He resides in East Oak Lane and is the husband of the Hon. Monica N. Gibbs and proud father of Charleston and Robinson. 


Jeffrey began his relationship with PLSE in 2021, when he organized his law firm’s first Pardon Clinic; he has organized additional clinics, and personally served as a Pardon Coach to multiple applicants, since then. He is a Partner at Blank Rome LLP, where he has extensive experience in high-stakes corporate and commercial litigation defending privacy and consumer protection class actions. For over ten years, Jeffrey has regularly written the Cyberlaw column for The Legal Intelligencer, wherein he explores issues related to computing and the law. In addition to his work with PLSE, Jeffrey handles several pro bono cases each year. He was recognized by Blank Rome with its Pro Bono Hero Award in 2011 and serves as a member of the Firm’s Philadelphia Pro Bono Coordinating Committee. He has also served on the Board of Directors for Community Legal Services since 2016 and was elected to serve a three-year term on the Board of Governors for the Philadelphia Bar Association. He received a B.S., with distinction, from The Pennsylvania State University, and a J.D., cum laude, from Syracuse University College of Law. He is a regular volunteer with the United Way of Southeastern PA and the Senior Law Center. 


We are excited for the unique and valuable perspectives and leadership that both Charles and Jeffrey will bring to the board and are confident they will help PLSE in its continued growth and success. 

AFSCME District Council 33 Hosts Record Clearing Clinic

On Saturday, January 27th PLSE hosted its third Record Clearing Clinic with Philadelphia District Council #33 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. Through this partnership, PLSE assists union members with a criminal record leave their past behind. Members of DC33 keep our city running and their success is essential to Philadelphia’s well-being. We would like to extend our special thanks to DC33 President Ernest Garrett for his leadership and commitment to those with criminal records. 

Pardons Explained

Looking for a short tutorial on the PA Pardon Process? Zach Keasling, Pardon Fellow in Cumberland County and Member of the Executive Board of the Pardon Project Steering Committee, has created an 8-minute, easy-to-understand, step-by-step video that is informative and fun to watch. Kudos and many thanks to Zach! If you would like to contact Zach with questions or comments, you can email him at zkeasling@gmail.com

New Expedited Review Program Underway

After announcing it last July, many of our clients are finally receiving letters from the Board of Pardons informing them they qualify for the new Expedited Pardon Review Process


Instead of having their applications sent to the Department of Corrections, the BOP is now sending eligible applicants a 4-page questionnaire in lieu of a more thorough and lengthy DOC investigation. Pardon Coaches: a fillable PDF form is now available for you in the Pardon Coach Toolkit. Prior to the implementation of the expedited process, one of our eligible clients was not scheduled for a merit review hearing until December 2024. The new process has the potential to speed up the application process considerably and is a great step forward. 

Gov. Shapiro: Urge the BOP to Pardon Weed Possession Convictions

On Friday, January 20th, President Biden issued presidential pardons to any American or lawful permanent resident who has a conviction for cannabis possession on their record. “Criminal records for marijuana use and possession,” he said, “have imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. It’s time that we right these wrongs.”  

At the same time, the President ordered the Department of Health and Human Services to compile a case for the reclassification of cannabis from a Schedule 1 drug, such as heroin and cocaine, to a Schedule 3 drug, like testosterone and fortified Tylenol. This follows findings by the federal Food and Drug Administration that, among other things, “marijuana withdrawal syndrome appears to be relatively mild compared to the withdrawal syndrome associated with alcohol, which can include more serious symptoms such as agitation, paranoia, seizures, and even death.”  


We urge Governor Shapiro to speak up and urge the board to consider our Marijuana Amnesty Petition and pardon the tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians who were convicted under Pennsylvania law of simply possessing marijuana. As President Biden said, it’s time that those wrongs be righted.

Pardon Me Goes Corporate

On January 23, the Greater Philadelphia Leadership Exchange, an initiative of The Economy League, held a screening of the film Pardon Me at the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative. The room was packed with leaders from various sectors, including private businesses, foundations and non-profits, City Council, and academia. After the screening, attendees listed to Shuja Moore Producer and Director of Pardon Me, Julie Wertheimer, Project Director of Mental Health and Justice Partnerships at The Pew Charitable Trusts, and Jeff Brown, founder of Browns Super Stores and Uplift Solutions, discuss strategies for making pardons better understood as community investment and workforce development issues that benefit society as a whole.


GPLEX Program Director Kejsai Shahaj called the evening “a tremendous success. The energy in the room was truly electric!”. She noted that after the program, many attendees came up to her to share their thoughts on how to continue the conversation around pardon and reentry reform and “ways to move the needle forward.” What could be better than Philadelphia’s leaders “owning” the issue of “more pardons, faster”? Keep an eye out for updates in future newsletters as to how GPLEX leaders address the issue. 

Board of Pardons Announces 2024 Hearings Schedule

The BOP has posted its 2024 schedule. In 2022, the Board cut back its number of public hearings while two of its members were on the campaign trail. In 2023, it maintained this pace to accommodate two new members who needed to learn the ropes. Even after the number of pardon applicants surged to 2,173 in 2023, the BOP has retained its pared down schedule in 2024. 


It is our hope that the good news behind this reduced schedule is that the Board plans to expedite and excuse more applicants from attendance at hearings and unanimously recommend more applicants to the Governor through “consent agendas”. 


The next hearings are on February 22-23, with sessions at 9am and 1pm. You can watch them here: pacast.com/live/bophearing

Update on Gov. Shapiro’s Signing of Pardons

Last October, the Pardon Project Steering Committee launched a letter-writing campaign that urged the Governor to sign the pardons of applicants recommended to him by the BOP. Back then, there were only 223 people waiting for his signature from May and June. How’s the Governor doing? The numbers are in!


In December, after a 7-month delay, he signed pardons recommended to him in May. In January of this year, he signed 127 from June. We are still waiting on him to sign another 58 from October (all of whom received unanimous recommendation without a hearing) and 114 from November, (69 of whom were unanimously recommended). We urge the Governor to sign the pardons of these applicants, all of whom were recommended by the Board of Pardons after a thorough vetting and careful consideration and have cleared all the hurdles of the +/-3 year process. 

Three ways YOU can help:

  1. Make a gift to PLSE: plsephilly.org/donate/ 
  2. Watch the Pardon Hearings in February (22-23) and then write us to tell us what you think: info@plsephilly.org 
  3. If you have lived experience, join the Pardon Project Steering Committee; ppsc@plsephilly.org.


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