George Ryan gets surrender deadline
October 26, 2007 (WLS) -- Former Gov. George Ryan was ordered Friday to start serving a 6 1/2-year prison sentence in less than two weeks but his lawyers held out hope they could keep him out of prison pending a U.S. Supreme Court appeal.
U.S. District Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer set a Nov. 7 surrender date for Ryan and co-defendant Larry Warner to report to prison. But attorneys for both men planned to ask an appeals court later Friday to let them remain free on bond while they ask the Supreme Court to take the case.
George Ryan's legal team will be asking the U.S. Supreme Court, which turns down 99 of every 100 requests to consider a case, to put this one on the docket because the legal issues are so important.
"As Gov. Thompson said last night, this is an important case and that has not changed," Ryan attorney Timothy J. Rooney told reporters.
Thursday, an appeals court rejected Ryan's request for a new hearing. Former Gov. James R. Thompson, the head of Ryan's defense team, said Thursday he would take the appeal to the nation's highest court, the U.S. Supreme Court.
But first, Ryan's lawyers will ask the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to allow him to remain free while his appeal reaches the next phase. Ryan has been free on bail since he was convicted in April 2006 of steering state contracts to friends, using tax dollars to run his campaigns and covering up drivers license bribery.
John Marshall Law School Prof. Professor Timothy O'Neill said that the possibility of the Supreme Court taking the case probably won't affect the appellate court decision of whether Ryan goes to prison November 7 or remains free on bond. They are separate issues.
The conviction capped one of Illinois' biggest political scandals ever, bringing with it nine years of investigations and trials that wrecked Ryan's career and sent dozens of others to jail.
In a 6-3 split decision Thursday, the appeals court refused Ryan's and Warner's request that all the judges rehear their appeal. A three-judge panel already had turned them down in a 2-1 decision.
Ryan's attorneys said if the appeals court denies their request for a bail extension, they will ask the Supreme Court. The first step would be to put the matter before Justice John Paul Stevens, a Chicago native and the member of the high court who handles 7th Circuit matters.
Thompson on Thursday acknowledged the Supreme Court is the 73-year-old Ryan's last appeals hope.
"If the Supreme Court won't hear our appeal, that will be the end of the line and Gov. Ryan will have to report to prison," he said.
Thompson said Ryan was understandably disappointed by the court's Thursday ruling.
"I told him to keep fighting," Thompson said. "He said he would keep fighting. What do you think he's going to do, quit? He won't quit."
Thompson noted that at Ryan's age six years behind bars would be "a real threat to the governor and his health."
"But he's also a tough, resolute guy -- you all know him -- and he will do whatever the court tells him to do with the honor and dignity that he always shows," Thompson said.
He dismissed asking for a presidential pardon, saying the chances of getting one were "so small I don't think it's even worth discussion."
The 73-year-old former governor was not in court Friday, but his lawyers were present, and they agreed with the prosecution that Ryan will be heading to a federal prison on November 7. Probably, Ryan will report to Duluth, Minnesota, but it's possible he will go to Oxford, Wisconsin if his attorneys are able to convince the bureau to move him.
Ryan will go to prison unless the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago allows him to remain free on bond while his case heads to the U.S. Supreme Court.
It is considered relatively unlikely that the Supreme Court will take Ryan's case, but the dissent in the case was very strong, written by federal appellate Judge Richard Posner, who is a prominent and well respected jurist. Based on Posner's feeling that the length of the trial was unreasonably long and the chaos of the jury in some of the proceedings was untenable, the Supreme Court could decide to hear the case.
Ryan based his appeal on extraordinary jury deliberations following the six-month trial. After the jury already had deliberated for eight days, Pallmeyer dismissed two jurors for lying about their police records on pretrial questionnaires. They were replaced by alternates.
A juror who appeared sympathetic to Ryan told of being pressured by other jurors. One brought legal documents into the jury room in defiance of instructions. Before it was over, two jurors hired their own lawyers.
One legal expert, Richard Kling, a professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law, said it was "a very long shot" that the U.S. Supreme Court would take the case and an even "longer shot" that Ryan would be allowed to remain free on bond while the justices weighed such an appeal.
"The fact that he was allowed to stay out as long as he's been allowed to stay out is quite rare in the federal system," Kling said.
In Thursday's decision, the six majority judges on the appeals court took just a single paragraph to dismiss the request for a rehearing. Even the three judges who voted to grant Ryan a rehearing by the full court agreed "that the evidence of the defendant's guilt was overwhelming."
The eight-year investigation into corruption in the Ryan era began after six children in one family were killed in a highway disaster involving a truck driver whose Illinois license allegedly had been purchased with a bribe.
Ryan was secretary of state at the time.
The investigation known as Operation Safe Road resulted not only in the conviction of Ryan and Warner but dozens of other state officials and lobbyists.
Currently, Ryan is at home in Kankakee and scheduled to surrender on November 7. His co-defendant in the case, Larry Warner, is also scheduled to go to prison on that same day. He is headed for Littleton, Colorado to an alcohol rehabilitation facility. Warner is appealing in much the same way as Ryan. Their fates are inextricably woven together, although if they end up in jail, it will be in different prisons.
Ryan will find out whether or not the Supreme Court will take the case in the next few weeks or months. The appellate court in Chicago is expected to rule on the petition for bond before the surrender date of November 7.
History of Governors in Prison
George Ryan would be third Illinois governor to serve time in prison since the 1970s. Otto Kerner Jr. (1961 - '68) also served time in the early '70s before being diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Ryan would be the second Illinois governor sent to Duluth. And according to the first occupant, Walker, it was a hellhole, not a country club that left him on the brink of suicide in the late '80s.
Walker, who is now 85 years old, talked about prison despair at an event in Springfield earlier this year. The former governor, who is best known for the red bandana and work boots that he wore on a campaign hike around the state in 1971, served 18 months in Duluth after a bank fraud conviction in the late `80's.
From his home in Mexico, Walker said he is worried about Ryan. If the attitude of the warden and the guards at Duluth hasn't changed since he was there.
"I went through repeated strip searches. I hope he doesn't face that. I did. And I hope that they don't do that to him," said Walker.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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