Requesting clemency from a now-former president in the final weeks of his administration didn’t work for George Ryan. Neither did appealing to the current president’s sense of home loyalties and creating the image of a doddering old man whose health could take a turn for the worst at federal taxpayer expense.
So perhaps it should not be a surprise that the people who are willing to publicly back Ryan these days (whose numbers are far greater than the total who will ever say they support Rod Blagojevich) are trying a new tactic.
THEY’RE APPEALING TO a sense that perhaps Ryan has already served his prison time, and ought to be released.
That is the basis of an appeal attorneys for Ryan filed this week, saying that some of the charges upon which he was convicted ought to be dismissed and that he has served enough time at the Federal Correctional Center near Terre Haute, Ind., to satisfy what remains.
It is now in the hands of U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer to decide whether or not there is any legal merit to Ryan’s claim, and while a part of me thinks it is a totally reasonable request, I am not convinced she (or any other judge) will be inclined to grant it to him.
Which means if I had to put money down on this, I’d argue that Ryan will remain inmate 16627-424 for quite some time.
WHAT IT COMES down to is that ruling made by the Supreme Court of the United States earlier this year with regards to criminal convictions based on “honest services” – the belief that a person who fails to perform up to his best abilities on the job is committing an infraction worthy of criminal charges and prison time.
That ruling specifically related to officials with Enron whose behavior cost many people their financial livelihoodm, but the nation’s high court went so far as to restrict the ability to use such laws in public corruption cases.
Then, one-time newspaper publisher (and Chicago Sun-Times executive) Conrad Black was able to use that ruling as the basis of having a federal judge in Chicago knock some time off of his prison term – allowing him to be released. Conrad is a free man.
Which is what George Ryan – who has been held in federal prison for nearly three full years – wants to be.
RYAN WANTS US to believe that the charges upon which he was found guilty that rely on the “honest services” concept (the idea that by ignoring the fact that his Secretary of State employees were soliciting bribes from unqualified drivers, he himself was committing an illegal act) ought to be disregarded and downplayed.
When one considers that the bulk of the counts against him were based on the concept, it becomes clear that Ryan’s 6 ½-year prison term would be so significantly reduced that he probably would only really owe the federal government a year or two of his life in incarceration.
And as I pointed out earlier, he already has served 34 months in prison.
He wants us to think he did the time. Which means George Ryan is focusing less on getting his conviction overturned than he is in just trying to get out of the Terre Haute federal penitentiary (which fans of The Blues Brothers will point out serves a terrible cabbage roll to its inmates) any time sooner than his scheduled release date of July 4, 2013.
I POINTED OUT that last tidbit about having served the “time” because I have lost track of the number of people whose response Wednesday to Ryan’s request is to quote that old Baretta cliché, “Don’t do the crime, if you can’t do the time.”
But it does go to show how anything that even slightly resembles compassion toward Ryan is going to tick off a certain segment of our society – one that is determined to take a harder line toward the former governor than they would to many other people.
So it will be with some interest that I wait and see when Pallmeyer holds a hearing to allow attorneys (including former Chicago-based U.S. attorneys James R. Thompson and Dan Webb) to argue the merits of this particular request (and allow the prosecutors to dump all over it). Because I can’t envision any judge being that eager to have her (or his) name on an order that sets George Ryan free. At the very least, it will tick off those prosecutors who will perceive it as a challenge to their authority – and their conviction records.
It also would outrage that segment of the public that, for politically partisan reasons, wishes Ryan could be required to serve more time (not less). Even though it probably is the right thing to do, nobody – not George W. Bush or Barack Obama or anyone else – wants to put their name on the piece of paper that shows compassion in this case.