Ryan to stay free on bond during appeals

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Former Illinois Governor George Ryan will stay out of prison -- at least for now. A federal appeals court ruled Ryan can be free on bond while he appeals his conviction. Ryan was scheduled to report to prison in January.

It is very rare that someone convicted of multiple felonies would be allowed to remain free on bond while his appeal is being heard. George Ryan wanted that. Trial judge Rebecca Pallmeyer said no. But now the appeals court has said yes. And that suggests that the appellate judges find issues in the Ryan trial that could lead to his conviction being thrown out.

George Ryan was to start his 6 1/2 year prison sentence January 4. That will not now happen. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has granted Ryan's request to remain free on bond while his conviction is appealed. While the appeals court doesn't explain its decision, the centerpiece of Ryan's appeal is that removing and replacing two jurors eight days into deliberations did not make for a fair trial.

"The appellate court has recognized that this is a serious issue and we're grateful to the panel for doing that," said Jim Thompson, former governor.

The Ryan defense team is pleased and they say George Ryan is too. Ryan said by phone Wednesday that he has no comment on a court decision that is quite rare.

"I think it's hard not to conclude that this court of appeals believes there's a very serious issue in this appeal," said Ron Safer, former assistant U.S. attorney.

"It's an extraordinarily power move by the 7th Circuit and George Ryan should be very happy," said Prof. Richard Kling, Kent College of Law.

The appeals court has placed the Ryan case on a fast track and may make its decision on George Ryan's future by late spring or early summer.

In the meantime, Ryan lost another fight Wednesday. Because of his conviction, the board that governs state pensions voted to strip Ryan of his lucrative state pension. Former governor Jim Thompson says the Ryan camp will fight that ruling in court.

"I think the law is clear. We are not asking for his pension for the year was involved in the indictment. We are asking for the pension for the years he had a blameless public life. He is entitled to a partial pension," Thompson said.

So the bad news for George Ryan is that he loses his nearly $200,000 a year pension. His good news is he doesn't have to go to prison after the turn of the New Year. And that appeal bond decision, some attorneys believe, is a promising sign for Ryan's appeal.

At the same time, the three judges on the appeals court panel didn't explain their decision, didn't discuss any aspect of the case, but did make clear they will be moving quickly and won't be granting extensions which are common in complex appeals cases.

The U.S. attorney's office had no comment Wednesday.

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