Media Center

President Obama grants clemency in pro bono case handled by McNees attorney Kiandra Bair

October 7, 2016
Press Release

LANCASTER, PA (October 7, 2016) – A pro bono case handled by McNees Wallace & Nurick attorney Kiandra Bair earned clemency from President Barack Obama on Thursday, October 6, 2016, the United States Department of Justice announced.

Bair’s petition earned a commuted sentence for her client, Jason D. Rakel, of Shreveport, Louisiana, who was sentenced to 240 months imprisonment and 10 years of supervised release on February 22, 2006 for a non-violent drug conviction.

As part of the commutation, Rakel’s sentence will expire on October 6, 2018 upon enrollment in a residential drug treatment home.

Bair, an African-American, learned about Rakel, a white male, and his case through the Clemency Project 2014. She was encouraged to take on the matter from her firm mentor, Attorney Rachel Hadrick.

“Without her encouragement and support, I would not have had the opportunity to help Mr. Rakel,” Bair said.

The Clemency Project 2014 is a group of working lawyers and advocates launched after Deputy Attorney General James Cole asked the legal profession to provide pro bono assistance to federal prisoners who would likely have received a shorter sentence if they had been sentenced today. Clemency Project 2014 members collaborate to recruit and train attorneys on how to screen for prisoners who meet a set of criteria and assist those prisoners with pro bono legal representation.

The Clemency Project 2014 represents non-violent, low-level offenders without significant ties to criminal organizations, gangs or cartels; those who do not have a significant criminal history; have served at least 10 years of their sentence and have no history of violence prior to or during their current term of imprisonment.

In 2006, Mr. Rakel received a sentencing enhancement, which landed him a substantially longer federal prison sentence than that of a co-conspirator. Thanks to sentencing reform, there have been a number of changes within sentencing policies, disallowing such a sentence to be rendered today. Despite Mr. Rakel’s disproportionate sentence, he had the courage to seek help.

“I believe Mr. Rakel vulnerably, yet rewardingly, put himself in the position to seek legal assistance through the Clemency Project 2014,” Bair said. “Through this program, he was afforded the opportunity to receive pro bono representation, which ultimately spared him from serving several years remaining of his 240 month sentence.”

Bair is an Associate in the Firm’s Lancaster office, where she practices in the Commercial Litigation and Orphans’ Court Litigation Groups. Prior to joining McNees, Kiandra served as an Assistant City Solicitor in the Tax Unit for the City of Philadelphia Law Department. In addition, she served as a Judicial Law Clerk to the Honorable Dennis E. Reinaker, who now serves as Lancaster County’s President Judge.

As a committed volunteer, in 2012, Bair provided Pro Bono services to the Family Court Project, Domestic Violence Unit in Philadelphia, where she worked with victims of domestic violence. She is also an active participant with the Lancaster-based Children Deserve a Chance Foundation (Attollo); encouraging and equipping young scholars with the value of education and hard work.

“Opportunity is huge for me, as I wouldn’t be where I am today without the opportunities I’ve been afforded,” Bair said. “I am a first generation college graduate from the inner-city here in Lancaster and have seen first-hand how the system affects those without advocates.”

Bair graduated from J.P. McCaskey High School in Lancaster and earned her law degree from the Thomas R. Kline School of Law at Drexel University, where she served as a member of the Black Law Students Association, and her undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland – College Park, where she served on the University Student Judiciary – Student Honor Council.

Bair is also the first member of the National Bar Association to file a successful petition for clemency.

President Obama also granted clemency to 101 other inmates on October 6 as he continues to release federal inmates serving long prison terms for non-violent drug offenses. In total, President Obama has commuted 774 sentences during his presidency, more than the previous 11 presidents combined. Despite that statistic, there remain thousands of pending petitions and even more inmates who have yet to receive representation and/or submit a petition. Notwithstanding, Mr. Rakel and Ms. Bair are elated to be part of the 774 commutations of sentences to date.