Governor's arrest could be final nail in Ryan clemency

Published: 12/9/2008 5:18 PM | Updated: 12/9/2008 7:03 PM

Gov. Rod Blagojevich's arrest raised questions about whether Illinois' sitting governor would wind up behind bars - and whether his predecessor would be more likely to stay there.

The corruption charges against Blagojevich could - and some say should - complicate the quest for clemency for former Gov. George Ryan.

"It should end it in a nanosecond," said Republican Congressman Mark Kirk. "We are the most corrupt state in the country, and we are currently being run by a criminal."

Harold J. Krent, dean of the IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, said criminal law is designed in part as a deterrent. Commuting Ryan's 61/2-year corruption sentence after only 13 months, especially in light of the charges against Blagojevich, could suggest that "we don't take political corruption as seriously as we should," Krent said.

"There's a risk if you grant clemency to George Ryan now it would be seen by some as minimizing the extent and depth of corruption that plagues state government," Krent said.

Attorneys for Ryan have sought clemency from President George Bush, a call echoed earlier this month by Sen. Dick Durbin. Blagojevich also supports clemency.

Attempts to get a statement from Durbin Tuesday regarding the Ryan case were unsuccessful. When asked if Blagojevich's arrest would have an impact on the Ryan clemency plea, Durbin spokesman Joe Shoemaker said, "I don't know."

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald called the quest for clemency "a different matter" than the case against Blagojevich. While Fitzgerald said he would be willing to express his opinion privately on the issue should White House officials seek it, he declined to comment publicly.

"It's inappropriate for me ... to express a view," Fitzgerald said.

Ryan's chances for clemency weren't strong to start with, said P.S. Ruckman, an associate professor of political science at Rock Valley College in Rockford, who has researched and written extensively about the pardon process.

Blagojevich's arrest has made that even more unlikely, he said.

"This might knock it off the table," Ruckman said.

Ruckman said he had recently begun to think clemency for Ryan, a Republican, was possible as part of a possible scenario where Bush could commute Ryan's sentence at the same time he granted clemency for former Gov. Edwin Edwards of Louisiana, a Democrat who has already served six years for racketeering. Commuting both men's sentences could be seen as a "balancing act," Ruckman said.

That was before Tuesday's arrest.

"The news story today makes me think that the Ryan thing isn't going to happen," Ruckman said.