With a flurry of exiting pardons expected from Donald Trump any moment, incarcerated Tiger King star Joe Exotic has taken the Justice Department to court in the hopes of joining Michael Flynn, Roger Stone and other similar upstanding citizens in getting a Presidential act of clemency.
“Joe Exotic seeks to require the United States Office of the Pardon Attorney to comply with its ministerial duty to submit a recommendation to the President of the United States regarding Joe Exotic’s application for pardon, so that the President can exercise his Constitutional discretion in determining whether to grant or deny application petition,” declares a complaint that Exotic filed under his real name of Joseph Maldonado-Passage in federal court last week against the DOJ’s Acting Pardon Attorney Rosalind Sargent-Burns (read it here).
A self described “gay, gun-toting, redneck in Oklahoma,” according to Exotic’s 257-page initial pardon petition, the infamous star of the Rebecca Chaikin and Eric Goode directed Netflix sordid blockbuster documentary series is currently in his first year behind bars serving a 22-year sentence. Exotic was convicted in 2019 of 17 charges of animal abuse and for scheming to have a hitman murder his private zoo rival Carole Baskin for $3,000.
Having seen his petition soundly tossed in the bureaucratic bin in September by the DOJ, Exotic wants to directly take up the clearly perplexed former Celebrity Apprentice host on his public remark in April to “take a look” at a previous more informal pardon request.
“Joe Exotic, through counsel, requested that Defendant provide notice and a recommendation to the President,” the short jury seeking filing from December 16 adds. “However, such request was refused, and Joe Exotic has no other adequate remedy at law. Therefore, Joe Exotic is entitled to an order compelling Defendant to comply with the clear, indisputable, non-discretionary obligation to provide the President of the United States with notice of Joe Exotic’s petition for pardon and a recommendation thereon.”
Neither the White House nor the Justice Department responded to requests from Deadline on the suit and the state of any possible pardon.
Earlier this spring, Exotic penned an unanswered letter directly to Trump asking for a pardon. Since then, he and his lawyer have written to Kim Kardashian West (who has had some luck convincing the soon to be ex-POTUS to grant clemency). With an eye to realpolitik, the Tiger King main man this fall also had supporters splash around $10,000 at the lobbyist breeding ground of D.C.’s Trump International in a rear guard effort to court 45’s favor.
In addition, to be filed under just when you thought things couldn’t get weirder, the 6-page complaint out of Texas aims for the impulsive Trump’s soft underbelly – his ne’er-do-well family.
“Many people have come out and publicly expressed their disagreement with Joe Exotic’s conviction and subsequent sentence,” asserts the filing from Fort Worth-based lawyer Francisco Hernandez for 57-year old Exotic. “Among those, are members of the President’s own family. Donald Trump Junior has been an advocate for Joe Exotic to be Pardoned.”
Well, actually, big game killer Junior told SiriusXM in April that after binging Tiger King in two sittings he might think about advocating for Exotic’s early release. His reasoning was less about justice and more because it would get under the media’s skin and “I can generally be for this just for the meme.”
Junior went on to say of Exotic: “It doesn’t seem like he was totally innocent of anything. But when they’re saying, ‘We’re putting this guy away for 30 years,’ I’m saying that seems sort of aggressive.”
As Trump senior has repeatedly made sadly clear, a president can pardon anyone for anything – and they can do it on live TV as occurred at the Republican National Convention this summer.
Yet, in terms of petitioning for a pardon, there are some rules to the game. Among the numerous tripwires that saw Exotic’s attempt given a final denial by Sargent-Burns’ office in early September is the fact the incarcerated petitioner is still in jail.
“No petition for pardon should be filed until the expiration of a waiting period of at least five years after the date of the release of the petitioner from confinement or, in case no prison sentence was imposed, until the expiration of a period of at least five years after the date of the conviction of the petitioner,” says the DOJ’s guidelines for executive clemency. “Generally, no petition should be submitted by a person who is on probation, parole, or supervised release,” it adds.
Oddly, hope may somewhat spring eternal for Exotic
The lawsuit of last week says that Exotic’s petition status is nowhere to be found on the DOJ’s website and it looks like he never “ever filed a Pardon, or Commutation of Sentence.” However, a search by Deadline today found that Exotic has a “Clemency Case File Number” and its status is “Pending.”
Of course, as with so many things involving the soon to be adapted Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness saga, all is never so straightforward.
“The Court hereby ORDERS Plaintiff to amend his Petition and attach any and all documents relied on and referenced in his Petition on or before December 23, 2020,” stated Judge Mark Pittman on December 18. Exotic’s attorney Hernandez did not reply to Deadline’s requests on where things were at with that refiling.
Which means this could all be over before it ever really started for the MAGA touting Exotic or maybe Trump will just add him to the list anyway – maybe with Don Jr.
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