Ryan's lawyers now trying to keep client out of prison
Chicago, Ill. – Former Gov. George Ryan's battle to stay out of prison remains alive while his lawyers push for a fresh hearing in his racketeering and fraud conviction.
The 73-year-old former governor got bad news on Tuesday as a three-judge appeals panel upheld his conviction, leaving him under a court order requiring him to report to prison to start serving his 6 1/2-year sentence within 72 hours.
But late in the day, the appeals court stayed the deadline and said Ryan could remain free on bond while former Gov. Jim Thompson and his other lawyers try to get him a hearing before all 11 actively serving judges of the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.
"We are grateful," Thompson said after the appeals court granted the stay.
Ryan told Chicago Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed after the stay that he was relieved.
"I always felt and hoped that there would be justice and I felt it today with the judges' ruling. I still believe in the system."
He said he and his family "are staying strong."
The day began with the court issuing a 2-1 decision upholding Ryan's conviction, which came after what Ryan's attorneys have repeatedly said were severely flawed jury deliberations.
"The fact that the trial may not have been picture perfect is, in itself, nothing unusual," said the opinion written by Judge Diane Wood and joined by Judge Daniel Manion.
"The evidence supporting the jury's verdict was overwhelming," the majority opinion said. Trial Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer "took every possible step to ensure that the jury was and remained impartial," it said.
Dissenting Judge Michael Kanne said that calling the trial less than perfect was "a whopping understatement" and added that the verdict should be set aside because of jury problems and "a flood of errors."
After the decision, federal prosecutors asked Pallmeyer to enforce an order to make Ryan report to prison within 72 hours to start his 6 1/2-year sentence.
Ryan's lawyers would try for a so-called "en banc" hearing of all 11 actively serving appeals judges, said Thompson, who renewed his criticism of Pallmeyer for dismissing two jurors and replacing them with alternates after eight days of deliberations.
"You can find no case in America where a trial judge was allowed to substitute jurors after eight days of deliberations," he said.
"No court ever deprived a defendant of his life and liberty under these circumstances and that is the argument we will make if necessary to the Supreme Court of the United States," Thompson said.
Thompson, a political powerhouse in Illinois who has been publicly thanked by some appeals court judges for his help in getting their seats on the court, acknowledged that en banc hearings are rarely granted.
But he said such an appeal might work this time, praising Kanne's strongly worded criticisms of Pallmeyer's handling of the trial.
Kanne, a former U.S. District judge from Indiana, described Pallmeyer as a "conscientious but irresolute judge" who mistakenly tried to build a consensus at the trial and sometimes had a hard time reaching decisions.
The U.S. attorney's office, which prosecuted the Ryan case, issued a brief statement noting the appeals court found the evidence overwhelming and that Pallmeyer conducted a fair trial.
Ryan was convicted of steering state contracts to political friends such as businessman Larry Warner. Warner was also found guilty at the trial and the appeals court also upheld his conviction.
The snowy haired, husky-voiced Ryan, a former Kankakee druggist who became the state's most powerful Republican, was accused of steering state contracts to Warner and other political friends in exchange for benefits ranging from free vacations in Jamaica to a free golf bag.
Ryan was also accused of killing an investigation of bribes paid in exchange for driver's licenses and using state money and employees to wage his political campaigns. The eight-year investigation 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. Prosecutors later traced thousands of dollars in bribes to the Citizens for Ryan campaign fund.
The eight-year investigation known as Operation Safe Road resulted not only in the conviction of Ryan and Warner but dozens of others, including Ryan's top aide, Scott Fawell, former state Sen. Ron Swanson, R-Homer Glen, influential political strategist Donald Udstuen and Ryan's inspector general when he served as secretary of state, Dean Bauer.
Jury deliberations at the close of Ryan's trial were tumultuous.
Among other things, jurors frequently took breaks by changing into workout clothes and sprinting up and down an interior stairway near Pallmeyer's court.
But members of the panel bickered sharply in the jury room.
Some jurors signed a letter to Pallmeyer, complaining that one panel member, Evelyn Ezell, refused to negotiate. After eight days of deliberations it was found that Ezell and another member of the jury, Robert Pavlick, had omitted from their questionnaires encounters with police.
The defense claimed Pallmeyer's dismissal of the jurors after eight days was unprecedented.
Pallmeyer herself acknowledged in an unsealed transcript of an in-chambers talk with attorneys that she "well might" be reversed on appeal.
After the verdict, it was discovered that one of the jurors, a substitute kindergarten teacher, had brought into the jury room a legal document she found on the Internet saying it was wrong to refuse to deliberate. The document evidently had been used to pressure Ezell.
Jurors had been instructed not to bring anything into the jury room other than materials supplied by the court. As the investigation deepened, the teacher hired a prominent criminal defense attorney to protect her from any charges.
There were no such charges. But another juror hired Illinois House Republican leader Tom Cross's law firm to try to stop the investigation.