CHICAGO – The 76-year-old wife of imprisoned former Gov. George Ryan has a terminal lung disease, Ryan's attorney told a judge Thursday as he sought bail for Ryan while the judge considers a request to toss part of his corruption conviction.
Lura Lynn Ryan isn't expected to live more than a few years, attorney Dan Webb told Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer.
"She is terminally ill. She has one or two years to live," Webb said, referring to Ryan's wife of 54 years, who looked frail as she sat among court spectators behind him. She entered the courtroom carrying an oxygen canister in a tote bag with tubes running from it to her nose to help her breathe.
Pallmeyer set a Nov. 1 date to hear arguments on both the bail request and the primary legal question — whether a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that curtailed laws barring public officials from denying taxpayers honest services should nullify some of Ryan's convictions.
If the convictions are tossed, Ryan could be let out for good — well short of his current release date of 2013.
Ryan, who did not appear at the hearing, is in a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind. — nearly three years into a 6½-year sentence.
Prosecutor Laurie Barsella told Judge Pallmeyer the government would "strongly and vociferously disagree" that the high court's ruling applied to Ryan. She did not elaborate, saying prosecutors would take about four weeks to draw up a detailed response.
Honest services provisions have long been criticized by defense lawyers as too vague and a last resort of prosecutors in corruption cases that lack the evidence to prove that money is changing hands. But watchdogs consider the provisions key to fighting white-collar and public fraud.
In their June decision, justices kept honest services laws in force, even as they joined unanimously in weakening it — creating some confusion over how the ruling should be applied.
That hasn't stopped a growing list of public figures from challenging convictions that were based on honest-services laws. They include newspaper magnate Conrad Black and Jeffrey Skilling, the former CEO of disgraced energy giant Enron.
Black was recently freed on bail after serving about two years of a 6½-year sentence for defrauding Hollinger International Inc. investors. When the court limited the scope of the honest services law, a court granted Black bail as he appeals his fraud conviction.
Not all Ryan's convictions are tied to honest services laws and his attorneys are seeking only to have those linked to such laws overturned. If Pallmeyer agrees to strike those, the defense wants Ryan to go free based on time he's already served.
"George Ryan is now in prison serving time for something the U.S. Supreme Court said is not a crime," Webb told reporters after Thursday's hearing.
Ryan was convicted of racketeering, conspiracy, tax fraud and making false statements to the FBI when he was secretary of state and later governor from 1999 to 2003.
Ryan is hopeful the latest legal moves will lead to his release, Webb said.
"He's got his hopes up and he should have his hopes up," his attorney told reporters.
Ryan's wife also talked briefly to reporters, speaking in a hushed voice.
Asked how she felt about her husband's imprisonment, she responded, "I miss him a great deal."