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USA UK and Malta News
25/10/2007 - 23:48

Editoweb USA: Ryan loses appeal, looks to Supreme Court

Former Gov. George Ryan will ask to remain free while he appeals his corruption and fraud convictions to the U.S. Supreme Court, which now is "the end of the line," his lead attorney said this afternoon.

Jim Thompson, himself a former governor of Illinois, made the announcement at a news conference held hours after the full U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals decided not to overturn Ryan's convictions.

"[On Friday] we will file a motion with the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals asking that Governor Ryan's bail be extended to allow him to remain free while we ask the Supreme Court of the United States to review this case," Thompson said.

"If they agree to hear our appeal, that will be the next step, making an oral argument," Thompson said. "If the Supreme Court does not hear our appeal, that will be the end of the line, and Governor Ryan will have to report to his designated facility."

Thompson said Ryan will stipulate to a reporting date of Nov. 7. If the appeal for bail extension is not decided by that time, Ryan will report to prison and await a decision from there, he said.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals decided this morning not to review the work of a three-judge panel that voted 2-1 to uphold Ryan's convictions despite a series of juror controversies at the end of his historic six-month trial last year.

A majority of the nine judges who took up the matter issued a one-paragraph denial of the Aug. 28 motion without comment.

"A vote on whether to grant rehearing en banc was requested, and a majority of the judges in regular active service have voted to deny the petition," the order stated.

A three-member minority said it agreed that the evidence of Ryan's guilt was overwhelming, but that a defendant has a right to a trial that meets minimum standards of procedural justice. The majority of the panel that heard the initial appeal found any errors in the case to be harmless, the minority noted. "But harmlessness is not the test of reversible error when a cascade of errors turns a trial into a travesty."

"Against this it will be argued that ours is an adversary system, that a judge is just an umpire, and that it is not his or her business what procedures the opposing parties' lawyers want the trial to be governed by," the minority wrote. "But these are at best half-truths. There is an independent judicial interest in the proper functioning of the adjudicative process."

The minority opinion went on to say that that the three judges are concerned that the majority opinion "signals an excessively tolerant attitude toward the management decisions of trial judges."

Ryan has one possible appeal left—to the U.S. Supreme Court—and the nation's highest court need not accept the case. Ryan is expected to ask to remain free while the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether to hear his case, but winning an appeal bond at that stage is a long shot, experts said.

"It's rarely granted," said Steven Goldblatt, a law professor at Georgetown University Law Center. "It's rare enough that it's not even commonly asked for. ... It's going to be very hard."

Absent last-minute intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court or the 7th Circuit, Ryan must report to prison within four business days after the 7th Circuit issues the official paperwork rejecting his request for a rehearing. That paperwork typically would come in no more than seven days.

Patrick Collins, who was lead prosecutor in the Ryan case, said he hoped debate over appeals would not overshadow the more important message of accountability.

"The legacy of the Ryan case is a legacy of the breach of public trust," said Collins, now a lawyer in private practice. "That is what the trial was about. And that's what the evidence showed, beyond any doubt—as every judge who has opined on this has indicated."

Collins stopped short of predicting Ryan would now go directly to prison, saying "I'm never going to say it's over until it's over."

But Collins said in his view that is what should happen.

"I don't wish jail on anyone, but the process dictates that this is the end of the road," Collins said. "And the process should be followed."

A jury convicted Ryan in April 2006 on charges that as secretary of state and governor, he doled out sweetheart deals to co-defendant Lawrence Warner and other friends and used state resources and employees for political gain.

Ryan, a Republican, was sentenced to 6½ years in prison. Warner, who was also convicted, was sentenced to almost 3½ years in prison.

To undo the three-judge panel's decision, Ryan needed to persuade a majority of the 7th Circuit judges to vote in favor of a rehearing by the full appellate court. Federal prosecutors had urged the full court not to rehear the case.

Federal prison officials assigned Ryan to a prison camp in Duluth, Minn. But his lawyers are trying to get Ryan reassigned to a similar facility in Oxford, Wis.

In their appeal of Ryan's conviction, defense lawyers charged that "an avalanche of errors" tainted the landmark trial, aiming most of their fire at U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer's handling of several juror controversies.

A Ryan juror should not have read a paragraph from a legal article aloud to fellow jurors, but "neither the jury's exposure to this material, nor any other alleged error, rendered the proceedings unfair or otherwise warranted a new trial," Assistant U.S. Atty. Stuart Fullerton wrote in a brief filed in September... To see the continuation by opening the enclosure:


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