Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Nobody wants to put their name on an order showing sympathy for George Ryan

RYAN: Still a Terre Haute "resident"
Perhaps it shouldn’t be the least bit surprising that a U.S. District Court judge on Tuesday rejected former Gov. George Ryan’s request to be released from prison while his appeal on grounds that some of his convictions were based on improper law.

That doesn’t mean Ryan won’t someday have a court rule that his various convictions were legal overkill. He may wind up finding a judge who decides that some of the charges should be dismissed, and that the remaining charges would add up to a prison term of about the amount of time he has already served – just over three years.

BUT HE IS going to have to sit in a cell, so to speak, down at the work camp that is part of the maximum-security federal correctional center located near Terre Haute, Ind., until such a ruling is made.

Basically, what Ryan had been claiming was that he ought to be released while this particular appeal runs through the courts, admitting that if it fails he would have to someday return to prison (an experience that I think would be more traumatic than him just spending the time there).

It didn’t work.

Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer issued her ruling that says Ryan must remain in prison (regardless of any health difficulties his wife, Lura Lynn, may be confronting). She also took her own cracks at Ryan’s argument that he was found guilty of legal standards (“honest services fraud”) that have since been discredited.

“THE COURT IS not persuaded that the prosecution’s case would have been ‘significantly less persuasive’ if this evidence were excluded,” Pallmeyer wrote of Ryan’s argument. “Nothing in the record of Ryan’s petition suggests this evidence constituted a significant or particularly persuasive part of the government’s case.”

So Ryan stays in prison. He doesn’t even get the option of having to post some sort of bail in exchange for his freedom while the legal issue is pondered in the courts. Although in all honestly, I can’t help but wonder what exactly the Ryans have left that could be valuable enough to cover the cost of bail?

Much has been made in recent weeks of one-time first lady Lura Lynn Ryan’s declining health. We’ve all seen the photographs of her wearing the tubes leading to her oxygen tanks. We’ve all heard the estimates that she will die sometime during 2011, while her husband is not scheduled for release until July 4, 2013.

Yet I have to confess that the “health” argument didn’t sway me much. I never expected it to be taken seriously by the judge, who after all is paid to be hard-nosed and ignore pleas to sympathy.

SURE ENOUGH, PALLMEYER did exactly that.

“The court has had the painful duty to take such action in circumstances more compelling than these,” the judge wrote. “Any sensitive judge realizes that a lengthy prison term effectively robs the convicted person of what we all value most, months and years with loved ones, some of whom will no longer be there when the sentence has been served.

“Mr. Ryan, like other convicted persons, undoubtedly wishes it were otherwise,” she wrote. “His conduct has exacted a stiff  penalty not only for himself, but also for his family.”

Now I’m not doubting the sincerity of Pallmeyer’s conduct, both during Ryan’s actual trial at the Dirksen Federal Building or since then. Her 58 pages written in response to Ryan’s latest legal motions show she has put some thought into the former governor’s arguments concerning “honest services,” the belief that people were convicted and imprisoned more for their incompetence than any sense that their behavior on the job sank to the level of criminality.

WHILE I SENSE that the same Supreme Court of the United States rulings that have limited the scope of past convictions of Enron executives could also limit the amount of actual wrong-doing by the former governor, I also have to admit to not being a legal scholar who does comprehend how subjective much legal interpretation truly is.

Rarely is the law written in such a hard-and-fast manner as some of us would like to believe.

I also realize that when it comes to George Ryan, his case brings out a visceral reaction in so many people. He may well be held to a higher standard than anyone else.

So is it possible that some appeals court judicial panel will ultimately decide that Ryan might be right, and that a reduction in his convictions would reduce his overall prison term to something in the line of 3-4 years (rather than the 6 ½ that he is now serving)?

IT MAY HAPPEN. But he’s still going to have to sit in a cell somewhere until the absolute last minute before anyone will be willing to let him think of getting out.

I suppose that even applies to the future funeral services of our state’s one-time first lady. How loud will the outcry be from certain people that George Ryan shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the event?

I always wonder if this type of reaction says more about us as a society, than it does anything about Ryan.


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