Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Illinois’ take on ‘The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave’ Do we need sequel?

There’s the old Saturday Night Live sketch in which John Belushi played a houseguest who couldn’t take a hint that the evening was over and he should go home.

“The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave!” A parody of old, cheesy horror films. In my mind, I can still hear Jane Curtin’s blood-curdling scream.

AND IN MY mind, I heard it again on Monday when I stumbled across the news report about how former Gov. George Ryan’s criminal appeal has been resurrected.

Ryan, of course, was found guilty by a judge in the U.S. District Court for Chicago and northern Illinois, and a Chicago-based appeals court panel has upheld that verdict – which is why he is serving time in prison through July 4 of next year.

The Supreme Court of the United States has decided that there is nothing about the reasons given by the Appellate Court for upholding the conviction in Ryan’s specific case that is questionable enough that they need to get involved.

Except, …

THAT SAME COURT on Monday made a statement telling them they need to review the Ryan case again. Not because the high court is saying they did anything wrong.

It’s just that during the time that Ryan has been in prison, the Supreme Court has ruled in a case on the issue of “honest services” fraud. The appeals judges based in Chicago will have to decide if Ryan’s case falls into this category.

His attorneys, of course, will argue that it does. They have always argued that. But it wasn’t until that Supreme Court ruling in 2010 that anyone was willing to acknowledge the issue.
From Belushi to Ryan?

In theory, if the “honest services” concept is found to be relevant to Ryan, it could result in at least some of the “guilty” verdicts being overturned.

IN THEORY, IT could mean that Ryan has already served his sentence, or may have even served too much time.

It wouldn’t be in time for Ryan to return home to wife Lura Lynn (she died last year, remember?). But I’m sure he’d prefer to be free sooner, rather than later. And at Ryan’s age (he's 78, now), there’s no guarantee he’ll make it to Independence Day of 2013 – which would make his term literally a life-sentence.

As to whether or not the appeals court will take this seriously, I don’t know. The appeals court will get the legal briefs related to the case in June, but there's no hard-and-fast deadline by which the court must complete its review. I suppose they could do their review and come back, saying that they decided it doesn’t apply to Ryan.

My own gut reaction says it might. But then again, I’m not a law school student. I’m a reporter-type who has hung around enough courtrooms to get a crude knowledge of the law.

WHICH MIGHT BE more than the cashier who works at the Popeye’s chicken across the street from the Criminal Courts building at 2650 S. California Ave., but would be less than many of the defendants who wind up stopping in there for a bite to eat after making an appearance in their own court cases.

“Honest services” comes down to how much should we really expect from our government officials, and to what degree is their incompetence and foolishness something that should be punished by criminal proceedings.

There are some cases that have worked their way through the federal court system where people have argued that public officials got sent to prison for being stupid, rather than criminal.

Is that what Ryan is going to have to argue – “I was too dumb to know that my employees in the Secretary of State’s office were shaking down unqualified drivers in order to justify giving them the commercial driver’s licenses?”

IN MY MIND, that doesn’t make Ryan look good. But then again, he’d probably be willing to say it if it meant erasing a part of the prison time that he will have to do otherwise.

All of which means that those people who are desperate to believe that Ryan is venal and warrants much more punishment than he received are going to be disgusted that this case has cropped up yet again.

It truly won’t go away.

Although if I had to predict now what will happen in this case, I will say that Ryan will wind up having to do all the time he is now sentenced to.

FOR WHILE I honestly believe much of the intensity of animosity toward Ryan is motivated by his actions as governor against the death penalty (Pat Quinn would never have been in a position to abolish it in Illinois last year if Ryan hadn’t implemented the moratorium against it nine years earlier), my gut reaction is that the legal step that ultimately winds up clearing Ryan’s reputation likely won’t come until after he serves the full sentence.

A presidential pardon as Barack Obama’s last action before leaving office in early 2017? There are a lot of things that have to happen between now and then for such a moment to be possible

Then again, anything’s possible.


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