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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Andy Martin says former Illinois governor was denied a fair trial

Executive Editor
"Factually correct,
not politically correct"



(CHICAGO)(August 21, 2007) Defending former Illinois Governor George Ryan is not easy. He was a thoroughly corrupt public official. He picked pockets and his corruption resulted in the loss of innocent lives. Still, Ryan was entitled to a fair trial. Today the U.S. Court of Appeals decided Ryan's appeal. Sadly, Ryan did not receive justice.

I am persuaded by the dissenting opinion of Circuit Judge Michael Kanne. As bad as he was, Ryan was denied a fair trial.

Kanne documents how Ryan's proceeding was conducted in a circus atmosphere. The jurors were never sequestered and had to run a daily gauntlet in the federal courthouse lobby where a media scrum awaited them.

The jurors were placed under threat of criminal prosecution while deliberating Ryan's fate.

The composition of the jury was jury-rigged to gain a conviction, or at least to facilitate a guilty verdict.

Judge Kanne methodically deconstructs the majority opinion upholding Ryan's conviction.

Under our system of justice Ryan was not entitled to a perfect trial, only a fair one. But the proceedings conducted in Chicago fell far short of a fair trial.

Ryan will remain free pending appeal. I have no problem with that.

The genius of our system is that it protects the procedural rights of people who are often guilty and even more often unpopular, to ensure against the conviction of those who may be innocent. Federal criminal law is a murky swamp, where vague laws are written to ensnare just about everyone and anyone, guilty or innocent. The system is not perfect, far from it. But it is all we have.

In Chicago we have been "blessed" with generations of federal judges who were either political hacks from the Democratic Party or right-wing ideologues and theoreticians.

So far as I know Judge Kanne is a Republican conservative appointee, who is "tough on crime." So he has no particular sympathy for criminal defendants. The fact that he dissented so vigorously is a talisman that something was very wrong with the way George Ryan was tried.

Indeed, Kanne's unpopular dissent detailing the wrongfulness of Ryan's conviction highlights why I am a conservative. Sometimes, when the system is wrong, it takes a conservative attachment to fair procedure to right the wrongs committed in the name of "justice." That's why lawyers have to defend unpopular cases, causes and defendants. They defend all of us and the Constitution. And they do so at some risk to themselves. I know from personal experience.

Still, I can't help thinking that despite the best intentions of the trial judge, she did not conduct a fair and impartial trial.

First George Ryan failed us as a state official. Then our system of justice failed him. The world is not a perfect place or a pretty place. Ryan may have received what he deserved, but we did not. The People of Illinois were losers both times.

Former Governor Jim Thompson has defended Ryan at some cost to his law firm's finances and his own reputation. Still, I commend Thompson for representing an unpopular defendant and staying the course. Ryan's defense may not have gained Thompson public plaudits, but he gained my respect as someone willing to
stand up and take on an unpopular client. Truly, now, he has earned the nickname "Big Jim."

Chicago-based Internet journalist, broadcaster and media critic Andy Martin is the Executive Editor and publisher of © Copyright by Andy Martin 2007. Martin covers regional, national and world events with forty years of personal experience. He holds a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Illinois College of Law. Columns also posted at; Comments? E-mail: Media contact: (866) 706-2639. Web sites:;


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