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Melanie Burrows

Melanie Burrows

Melanie Burrows is sober, educated, law abiding and still paying the price for breaking the law more than two decades ago.

With unpardoned drug felonies on her record, she’s barred from becoming a probation agent or correctional officer — jobs she studied in college and has dreamed about for years.

So last winter, the 50-year-old Sparta resident sought a pardon from Gov. Scott Walker.

It went nowhere.

Walker has issued no pardons since taking office, and he suspended the state’s Pardon Advisory Board in November 2011.

It’s a stark change in policy from his predecessors — Jim Doyle pardoned about 300 people; Tommy Thompson granted 62 .

“This is an important public policy question,” said UW-Madison law professor Donald Downs. “But the state constitution places the power in the lap of the governor, so the issue right now appears to be more political than legal.”

Walker’s office declined to explain its position. Asked about the pardon policy, spokesman Cullen Werwie said “the court system has an adequate appeals process,” and he didn’t respond to follow-up requests.

That gives little comfort to Burrows, who is not denying her guilt and trying to appeal but asking to be forgiven.

“I think I deserve the right to prove my case,” she said. “It is possible for a person to change for the better, to pay their price to society, to pay for their crime, to be remorseful, to take responsibility and to work to become a better and different person.”

Without pardons, some felons can’t regain their right to vote, own a gun, serve on a jury, hold public office or an alcohol or tobacco license lost as part of their conviction.

More than 50 people asked Walker for pardons before he dissolved the state board. His office no longer tallies requests.

Crimes, but also 24 years of sobriety

Burrows was 24 in 1987 when she sold an ounce of marijuana to a police informant. A La Crosse County jury found her guilty, and a judge gave her five years of probation and three months in jail.

Two years later, Burrows forged a prescription for Ritalin. She was convicted of her second felony and placed on probation for two years, plus 30 days in jail.

She enrolled an outpatient treatment, the first step in what she says is 24 years of sobriety. She also started at the public defender’s office to work off her representation at $5 an hour.

Burrows went on to earn paralegal and legal secretary associate degrees from Western Technical College in 1993 and 1995.

She tried for a pardon under then-Gov. Tommy Thompson, but the Pardon Advisory Board ruled it was too soon after her conviction and she didn’t prove employers wanted her.

So Burrows went back to college, this time for her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice administration from Mount Scenario College in Ladysmith, Wis.

She volunteered with domestic abuse programs and a food pantry and is now part of a Monroe County coalition trying to keep the community drug-free.

“She immediately jumped right in and offered her assistance and wanted to do what she could and give back what she could,” said Natalie Carlisle, who works with Burrows on the coalition.

Burrows dreamed of one day working in the proposed Monroe County criminal justice center. She prepared to ask Walker for a pardon, and went to the governer’s website for the application.

“There was one dang line and it said, ‘Governor Walker has suspended applications at this time,’” she said. “I just about fell out of my chair.

“I can understand not considering violent crimes,” she said. “But at least give me the opportunity to apply and be considered.”

The state’s constitution doesn’t require governors grant or even consider pardons — it just gives them the power to do so, Marquette University Law School professor Richard Esenberg said.

Burrows claims Walker is denying her due process.

She’s contacted legislators and President Barak Obama, started an online petition and reached out to state agencies.

Her best hope might be Sen. Lena Taylor, a Democrat from Milwaukee.

In early February, Taylor proposed new legislation that would create an independent council of nine reserve judges to review pardon applications and make recommendations to the governor on every one.

Taylor criticized Walker’s decision to ignore pardon applications as “just plain wrong,” saying there are cases where they are justified.

“Every citizen deserves to know that their application is being reviewed and the facts of their cases and rehabilitation are under scrutiny as well as the impact of their crimes on victims,” she said. “For a governor to ignore a citizen’s petition such as this violates the basic tenant of responsive government. This bill will ensure that citizens are heard and their applications acted on.”

No hearings are set for the bill.

“I’m so hopeful that it will pass and I can apply,” Burrows said.

In the meantime, Burrows said she’ll continue her freelance work helping people with small claims and divorce cases. Her paralegal work, though, is limited because she can’t be a notary without a pardon.

“It’s so frustrating,” she said. “When I went for the degrees I imagined I would have a pardon. Now I don’t know.”

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(49) comments

kentuckywoman2

I feel for this woman, and I do think she should be able to work at a job in the criminal justice system. There should be a pathway to restoration of rights for most crimes - but I do NOT believe that gubernatorial pardons are necessarily the way to go.

Nor do I believe Ms. Burrows is being denied "due process." She is not currently going through the criminal justice system. Where is her due process being denied? She's had her trial and served her time. What is left is what the law is allowing or denying her. But there is NO LAW requiring a sitting governor to issue pardons. While it is unfortunate for Ms. Burrows that she lives in a state whose governor doesn't believe in granting pardons, he is within his rights AND within the law.

To bring suit will only cost the people of Wisconsin money, because they will be paying for Walker's defense. I believe Ms. Burrows would be better served by addressing the issue LEGISLATIVELY, to create a path for restoration of rights.

ACB

This one REALLY tears me in two... First an adult woman has not one felony buy two felonies....cleans herself up....then spends years and money to get an education, which is fantastic!, for a job she knows she may never be able to get?? She knew she would have to get a pardon to be in that field...and it wasn't guaranteed. She is more of an accomplished person then I...but the felonies and career choice are her fault...not Walkers.

digger74

Ms. Burrows, I wish you luck in your endeavors, and I hope you succeed, especially in your attempt at gaining a pardon for crimes committed more than 20 years ago. Think about this, you bashers: Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon, one month after he resigned the presidency, and he wasn't even charged with a crime. How the h--l does that happen? I still remember the day Ford pardoned him, basically gave him immunity from ever being prosecuted for Watergate, what a joke. Do you bashers believe that was a correct decision on Ford's part?? I do not, never have. But, I believe granting Ms. Burrows a pardon WOULD be a correct decision, because she got the message--commit a crime, do the time IN A CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, and under supervision, and turn your life around. That's why they are called CORRECTIONAL facilities. Designed to correct bad behavior. Weather they ever let you out or not depends on how bad the behavior was. She did her time. Gov. Walker, well I'm glad I don't live in WI....

ThaTruth

give her the pardon, she's obviously learned her lesson and took what she learned and turned it into a positive situation. #redemption

Brandy

I am glad that I amuse you with my "knowledge of Walker" just because I made the mistake of calling him a senator instead of a govenor doesn't mean I am ignorant...it keajs I made a mistake! Obviously you yave a great job with excellent health coverage and the effects the bills he passes don't touch you. Some of us are stuggling single parents trying to go to school to better ourselves and get that cushy job u already have and need medical assistance for our children and ourself and can't get it because of him. That is why I am bashing him. And no I didn't know she asked tye two previous govenors for this but that doesn't give you the right to make me feel stupid and not worth the air you breath and I am sorry you need to make others feel that way to feel better about yourself

you think you know

First off, I apologize if I offended you, sincerely. Second, the typo of Governor to Senator was not the basis of my comment. I based that on your comment of how Walker F***s people over. Unemployment has gone down, the deficit is gone, and jobs have been created. People can say what they want, but Wisconsin is better now than it was at the end of Doyle's reign.

Third, my job is far from cushy, and my path here hasn't been either. I paid my own way through college, worked jobs putting in 70+ hours a week, working 6 days a week. I've been on HIRSP, because I was denied from Badgercare under Doyle because "I made too much money". I was a full time student at Viterbo, working full time as a cook. My wages were $23,000 that year, yet was too 'rich' to get assistance.

I've always paid my own way, worked hard, proved to others I can do better, and will not apologize for where I am now, ever. Even so, as I opened with, i'm sorry.

cowboy hooli

Some people change... montgumery Gentry.

roskoreh

Walker is abdicating his responsibilities. Executive clemency is a fundamental principle of criminal justice. He doesn't have to say, "yes," but to say "no," without ever hearing the case is cowardice and stupidity.

crank

"The state’s constitution doesn’t require governors grant or even consider pardons — it just gives them the power to do so, Marquette University Law School professor Richard Esenberg said."

Sorry, but this legal scholar disagrees with you.

Alteezimo

It's good to know that there is no redemption for the people who truly turn their lives around. This woman completely changed her life, and she has been on the right path for the last 20 years. Even after ascertaining an Associate's Degree and Bachelor's degree, most of you jackasses still think that she should still be denied a chance to prove herself - unbelievable.

Only1Green

She is proving herself, quite admirable. She made a choice and turned her life around, great. Maybe should not have choosen that profession if it requires a pardon

ditchlilly

She did her time. She went to school and wants to be productive, help people and support herself. Isn't that what we are supposed to encourage? 20 year old crimes should be considered, but not an automatic denial for pardon. Walker is all about punishing the people of Wisconsin. One way or another..........

crank

I really enjoy the idea that these felonies she's committed or the fact she's been unable to get a pardon are somehow Governor Walker's fault.

Maybe she does deserve a pardon but the responsibility for her situation lies exclusively with her and nobody else. She broke the law and was punished. Part of that punishment is the loss of her right to work as a probation agent, be a notary, etc. She was convicted for weed at the young age of 24, maybe she didn't know better. Two years later she forged a prescription. After the first time 'round and at 26, I'm pretty sure she should have known better. She chose...

I agree, good for her for what she's done with her life. Keep it up. Like her, I went to college, have a job, have done charity work and have been sober for years and years. Does this mean I deserve a pardon in the event I commit two felonies? I'm not counting on it. She shouldn't either. Maybe she'll have better luck with the next Governor.

Richy

All your comments make me sick because you spent your time and made a mistake like many people but to condemn someone to eternity just shows how pathetic most of you are, Lets hope God if you believe in him does the same to you! Hypocrites go and soak your brains in booze and tell others how great you all are and law abiding. What a joke! Have any of you ever been in a argument with someone or your wife? Oh if you have then your guilty of disorderly conduct whether you got caught or not. Have you ever broke the speed limit? Guilty of another crime again but you never got caught so i guess you are all guiltless! Whatever clean your own closets Same goes for all of you getting high on your prescriptions. Oh but thats a legal high because someone said it is. I know you are all sinless people. Think about it and point your finger at yourselves.

baywatch242012

It amazes me how so many of you are so unforgiving of this woman who was repented herself for 20 plus years and completely turned herself around, yet are seemingly ok with our local judges just handing out probation AND AN EXPUNGED record to people who have committed violent and/or egregious offenses against others.

northkat

I feel sorry for those who are so quick to cast that frst stone...so are you trying to say you NEVER did ANYTHING wrong, hurt anybody, broke a rule (maybe you just didnt get caught). Well I bet you did, and since you are so adament that she should pay for her sins for the rest of her life, then so should you.
We are all human. She doesnt want sympathy, she wants a chance to make something more of herself and contribute, and payback to society. Would you rather she went back to drugs, and committing felonies? At some point in our lives, on some level we all need help, or a second chance.

errrrrnotsomuch

Boo-hoo......gimme a break.

OnaMom4

She was neither young or innocent . She broke significant laws not once, but twice, She deserves no pardon she is a criminal and who better to help thugs than one who knows!

Deadwood subscriber

Good to know that your children are being taught that people can't change. You're a great Mom, at least compared to Casey Anthony.

CJ

Good Luck Melanie!

Brandy

I think she should get the pardon, I mean who is better to help a person on probation/parol with problems they are having and getting on the right path than someone who has been there. Look at recovery councelors...most of them have gone through it and can emathize with people trying to stay sober. Sen. Walker needs to help out people instead of f@@@ing people over like he always does!

you think you know

Nobody is keeping this woman from helping people on probation, nobody is stopping her from being a councelor. Her limitation comes from the ability to get a government job, not the end of the world, and certainly not a crime.

Your ignorance of Walker is comical. First off, he's not a Senator, he's the Governor. Second, lets not forget this woman has asked two past Governors for pardons, who also denied the request. Including Doyle, a Democrat who was in office 8 years, compared to Walker who's been in office for a little over 2 years.

It is funny to see the hypocrisy of posters on here. When a person is caught in La Crosse with drugs and the judges let them off on probation you all cry foul, but when it gives you a chance to bash Walker you all jump on the band wagon.

northkat

I think maybe you should get your facts straight..No where in this article does it say she asked Doyle for a pardon.she only asked Governor Thompson for a pardon, and was told it was too soon after her conviction, and that she needed to prove that employers wanted her. So instead of wallowing in self pity, she went back to school AGAIN, worked hard for those degrees, so as to give employers every reason to hire her. You talk about hypocrisy??? Take a look at our government. "United" States? We have a state that said its ok to smoke weed, a drug no matter how you look at it, yet this woman who has turned her life around and then some, cant get a simple pardon to improve her life, and show those who have also hit rock bottem that there IS light at the end of the tunnel. She has done more than most law abiding citizens to make something of her life. I applaud her.

you think you know

You're right, I made a mistake about asking Doyle. I'm not saying this woman doesn't deserve another chance to be in society, and you're right she has done extraordinary amounts to better herself and her community. I too applaud that. But the fact remains, no matter how long ago it was, she broke the law, twice. She broke laws that were felonies, not misdemeanors or civil citations like other people are posting about. Her charges in no way correlate to speeding or disorderly conduct, that's a worthless comparison.
Marijuana is illegal under federal law, it doesn't matter what Colorado says. Plus her case was 20 years ago, when it wasn't legal in other states, so hypocrisy was not an issue then.

She should be proud of herself, she's done right in her life and is probably a good person. If she's helping other people, and the community respects her then that's good. Her only limitation is that she can't work for the government. That's not that bad all things considered.

Only1Green

Went back to school for something she would need a pardon in order to fully do. One poor choice after another.

spierce546

scomls- Spoken like a true Republican. Me first. Eff everyone else.

Charlie

Thompson would not pardon her, Doyle did not pardon her and now with Walker only in office for two years you are laying all the blame on him for you not getting out? Sorry but your sad story doesn't wash. You are a felon, serve your time and deal with it. Once is a mistake, any more is not.

Deadwood subscriber

Way to be myopic, Charlie. Walker is to blame for eliminating recourse for pardons.

Rejecting a specific pardon request? That might be a smart/dumb, ethical/unethical, justifiable/not decision.

Eliminating pardon requests altogether? That is dumb, unethical, and not justifiable. Thanks, Scooter.

Only1Green

Eliminated? Walker will not be in office forever. The next governor, whoever/whenever that will, can pardon her then.

tumbleweed

Any person who has paid their debt to society from a criminal action such as drug offence deserves an opportunity to serve her community after twenty years of rehabilitation. This is what the criminal justice system and society aims and hopes for when people are convicted with these types of felonies. If it can be shown that, an individual has lived an honest life such as staying drug free, giving back to the community or going back to school for a purpose, this person most definitely justifies a pardon from the governor. In addition, she would make a great addition to the criminal justice system with her past life experiences.

FUBAR

"she would make a great addition to the criminal justice system with her past life experiences."

Yup, we should allow 2x convicted felons to be Wardens at the same prison the were locked in. Let's throw some onto the Judges bench. Shoot, let's grab some former dope heads and put them on the Police force. let's grab those 2x convicted drunk drivers and have them teach our kids at the local driving school while we are at it?

scomls

No sympathy - or pardons - for dopers.

Deadwood subscriber

Nope, just a life of idleness, taking our tax dollars through unemployment, welfare, and food stamps.

What do you want to do: rehabilitate criminals so they can contribute to society or let them freeload?

Only1Green

By all means, let's rehabilitate them. But is it a governor's fault if they choose a profession, going in know they can only really do that job IF I'm pardoned? This sounds like a case of I want..and I should get it. Her choices got her into this and by continuing to make the same "me, me, me" choices, they are still "holding" her back.

Buggs Raplin

Two piddly little crimes that should not ruin this person's chances at a job with the state. Wow, she sold an ounce of marijuana and forged a script for Ritalin. Oh, lord, protect us from such heinous behaviors.

Technomom

No forgiveness when they have worked to improve their life? Does he claim to be a "christian" when it pays off politically? I support an independent council so politics is removed from the process.

spierce546

This article is actually false. You can vote if you are a felon. I also believe people deserve a second chance. When I was young and dumb I got caught with a small amount of pot and they threw the book at me. I got an unclassified felony almost 20 years ago. Now I have a family with 2 kids a very successful career and my wife is successful also. I can vote, have a passport, but I still have that record that everyone can see and judge me because of a little weed when I was 18.

Deadwood subscriber

Be careful calling the article false. http://felonvoting.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=286

In Wisconsin, convicted felons can't vote except under special circumstances. Lucky for you you qualify. Not all felons do.

tower

All felons in WI get their voting rights back after they finish their sentences.

mvdavis

I think a person who has been through all that and has committed to changing her life and purpose in life for more than 20 years deserves a chance. Who better to councel these people. Someone who has been through it and came back successfully.

FUBAR

Sorry! 2 time felon.... Choices lady, choices...

Buddy

I am a licensed alcohol and drug COUNSELOR who had a history of misdemeanor offenses on my record. Had I not DECIDED to get clean and sober over 30 years ago, I could have easily had felonies on my record as well. I CHOSE, as this woman did, to change my life and have been a law abiding, tax paying citizen, contributing to the city I live in . FUBAR, you are absolutely right, CHOICES have gotten me everywhere in life as it sounds like it has with this woman. It is her last choice that should be remembered, not ones she made 20 plus years ago fueled by what sounds like an addiction that has been in remission for over 20 years now. These were drug related offenses. She was not convicted for murder, sex offenses etc. She paid her price to society and I think she should be considered for a pardon. Apparently her CHOICES made over the past 24 years have been the right ones. So yah, "choices lady, choices"
not commit crimes such as murder, sex offenses etc. She paid her price to society

Deadwood subscriber

What was the first felony? Selling an ounce of weed?

Yeah, you're right, FUBAR: I don't want someone who sold an ounce of weed in in the 80's to have a soul-crushing, bureaucratic job. I'd rather collect unemployment for next 20 years. That's fair.

FUBAR

First off, do I think selling an ounce of weed should be a felony?(you think she got caught selling on her first attempt or was there many ounces before that?) NO! I think it should be legal. BUT, it is illegal. She made the choice of doing a crime NOT ONCE but TWICE. She did not learn from her first "mistake" .

@Buddy. To think that the choices we made long ago should have no consequence or we should not be "remembered" by is naive. If you owned a Pharmacy would you hire this woman as your store manager or Pharmacist? Do I think this woman is a terrible person? NO, not at all and I think addicts can make the best counselors out there (like my mom). but, a felony is a felony and that comes with consequences. Sorry.

tower

So lets recover the subject here. Fubar thinks someone makes a mistake two dozen years ago and now it is a life sentence. What if she became Mother Theresa? Would that not count? Apparently not. Maybe we should brand her with a large L for Loser on the cheek so she can be an example. What a guy. What a Christian. What a man. They teach you that in the Marines too? You are pretty cavalier with the sorry, you screwed up. Now have a good life. In your thought process you fail to understand the rehabilitation part of punishment. THAT is naive.

Buddy

Fubar, she did learn from her mistake(s). Her choices did have consequences, she paid the price for her choices 20 years ago. Again, we are not talking murder here. If I owned a pharmacy, I might hire her, but knowing she is in recovery, might not want to put her in that position. However, her history would not deter me from hiring her in most any other sector.

FUBAR

LOL....First off I am NOT a Christian (why would you even equate being a good person with being a Christian?)....Second, NOBODY is telling her that she cannot have a job or a career. They are saying she can't work in a certain field because she is a 2X convicted felon. A felon as a probation officer? The inmate running the asylum? Why don't we go ahead and make a convicted felon the Warden of a prison? Or maybe our President? A cop? Why didn't she go to school to become a counselor and help fellow addicts? How about a 2x convicted Drunk Driver teaching YOUR kids how to drive? You can stop your nonsense "tower" nobody is buying it. I did notice that you commented on my post on this subject, but failed to re-comment on our other topic that I and many others bashed you on.

LAXTEA

Are we supposed to feel sorry for this felon? She wants desperately to get onto the state payroll with it's lifetime salary and benefits. But do we really need a felon with face piercings as an officer in our "criminal justice" system? I don't think so.

Deadwood subscriber

What about a felon without face piercings? Or a non-criminal with face piercings? What do face piercings have to do with anything?

Way to undercut your argument with a red herring.

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