Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving counterpoint: clemency for George Ryan

I know I am going against the grain here, at least those in the Tribune and Sun-Times who think former governor George Ryan should rot in jail for another 5 years.

While I see their points, I respectfully disagree.

Senator Dick Durbin and I agree on virtually nothing. But I'm glad to see he is at least considering sending a letter to President Bush asking for executive clemency.

"Let's look at the price he's paid," Durbin told reporters at the Statehouse. "His family name has been damaged. He is at an advanced moment in his life and been removed from his family. He has lost the economic security, which most people count on at his age. And he's separate from his wife at a time when she is in frail health.

"To say that he's paid a price for his wrongdoing, he certainly has. And the question is whether continued imprisonment is appropriate at this point," Durbin said.

Michael Sneed has a sympathetic column in the Times. Eric Zorn in the Trib and Mark Brown in the Times make good arguments against any leniency. So do members of the prosecutorial team, all former AUSAs. I do not deny that. But there's something else to think about here.

Perhaps I look at this from another perspective, one that Senator Durbin knows far too well. My grandfather died recently, and so did Durbin's daughter. I thank God that I had good, quality time with grandpa before the end came.

I think about Lura Lynn Ryan, the kids and the 17 grandchildren who may, for all I know, not get much time with their grandfather again.

Brown says about the family:

We are told that you are acting out of compassion, not so much for the sake of the former governor as for Ryan's wife, Lura Lynn, with whom you have developed a friendly relationship over the years. Look, I've rarely met anybody around politics who doesn't like Mrs. Ryan. It's understandable to feel sorry for her.

But she and her family benefitted from her husband's wrongdoing, and now they are sharing in the pain that every family must feel when their loved one goes to prison.

So, assuming this is true, we have to punish the poor grandchildren now? I tend to agree with Kanakakee County Democrats, six of whom, according to the Kankakee Daily Journal, came out in favor of clemency at a meeting last night.
“It would be a noble thing for him to do,” said Kankakee 7th Ward Alderman Steve Hunter. Kankakee County Treasurer Mark Frechette agreed.

“I think he ought to do it,” said 92-year-old Elvia Lee Steward of Pembroke Township, a longtime Democratic committeeman. “Considering his age and everything he has done. ... He did a lot of good and was no worse than a lot of the other ones.”

Manteno Mayor Tim Nugent, one of four Democrats vying for appointment to the state Senate, agreed. But, he said, Ryan might have a better chance waiting to appeal until after President-elect Barack Obama of Illinois takes office. In Bush’s first run for the presidency, Ryan backed Bush’s opponent, former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm.

As for commuting his sentence, Nugent, a longtime police officer and former Kankakee police chief, said: “I’m a law-and-order guy, but he’s 75 years old. What harm is he going to do to anyone?”

Heather Bryan, a committeeman from Bourbonnais, said the same.

“Commute or pardon,” she said. “Commuting would be good because it would maintain the integrity of the charge, but he has suffered enough ... I never loved him politically, but my heart goes out to him and the suffering of Lura Lynn. I love him for what he did in commuting the sentences of the men on death row.”
I know people -- most people -- will disagree with me on this one. And I respect the heck out of that. I am not looking at this as a pundit or a law-and-order guy or even a lawyer. I am looking at this as a grateful grandchild. There's nothing more, in my humble opinion, to be served by keeping the man locked up. And I want his grandchildren to have the same chance that I had -- to spend time with their grandfather.

Now, as I always like to do, the full disclosure department. I do not know Gov. and Mrs Ryan, unless you count nodding heads or waves to one another at the club at which we are both members. His son Homer is an acquaintance for the same reason, but we haven't spoken to each other in some months. My wife and her partners are the pediatricians for a number of Ryan's grandchildren. Some friends of mine know the family well, but we haven't spoken about this at all. I am writing strictly on my own account and not at anyone's request. If we can pardon Marc Rich, then George Ryan, who was admittedly convicted of doing some bad things but who has also done a lot of good things, at least deserves some consideration. I hope he can have quality time with his family and perhaps do some good for the world in the time he has left on this earth.

With that, good and bad times aside, I still have much to give thanks for, and I hope you do too. Best wishes for a happy Thanksgiving.


Mark A. said...

David, your post, while it shows alot of compassion, de-emphasizes what George Ryan was responsible for (source: Suntimes):

"In the secretary of state's office, he presided over a corrupt system that sold driver's licenses for bribes, putting more than 1,000 truckers with illegally obtained licenses on the road.

The climate of corruption produced one such driver, Ricardo Guzman, whose inexperience led to a fatal accident that killed the six Willis children in November 2004.

When the accident came to light, Ryan, as secretary of state, did not push to have it investigated. Instead, it was buried. Later, when a lawyer for the children's parents doggedly worked to uncover what happened, Ryan and his lieutenants smeared him."

The Willis family lost six children, as a direct result of George Ryan's actions!!! I ask you: whose pain is greater, George and Lura Lynn Ryan's, or Mr. and Mrs. Willis'? Let's keep a little perspective here, George Ryan hasn't even served one year of his 6.5 year sentence. On the eve of this Thanksgiving Day and the upcoming Christmas holiday, how can we even begin to comfort the never-ending pain that the Willis family is going through and will continue to go through? Pardoning a crook should be the last thing on anybody's mind. Just my 2 cents. And, I'm not connected in any shape or form to the Willis family.

David Stejkowski said...

Mark, you are entitled to your opinion and I respect it. I don't know anyone who does not feel for the Willis family. I cannot even begin to imagine that kind of suffering.

But I personally do not see how a keeping a now-powerless, pensionless, convicted felon in jail until he is past 80 does anyone much good. I also disagree that Ryan's actions "directly" caused the tragic incident, probably because the Palsgraf case was one of my favorites in law school. :)

I don't think Senator Durbin, by the way, supports a pardon. His request, if in fact made, would be for a commutation of the sentence, meaning that Ryan would remain a felon and ineligible for his pension.

I guess all I can say is that reasonable minds can differ while remaining civil. And I appreciate your civility.