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Legal expert says Ryan commutation would send wrong message

12/5/2008

Jan Dennis, Business & Law Editor
217-333-0568; jdennis@illinois.edu

Adamski
Click photo to enlarge
Photo courtesy WGN
Adjunct law professor Greg Adamski says trimming the former Illinois Gov. George Ryan's 6 ½-year sentence to the roughly 13 months he has already served would send a misguided message that politics and influence equal special treatment.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A University of Illinois law professor who twice helped nominate former Illinois Gov. George Ryan for a Nobel Peace Prize says it would be a mistake to commute the 74-year-old Republican’s prison sentence in a federal corruption scheme.

Greg Adamski says trimming the one-term governor’s 6 ½-year sentence to the roughly 13 months he has served would send a misguided message that politics and influence equal special treatment.

“He shouldn’t get out early just because he has buddies in high places,” said Adamski, an adjunct professor in the U. of I. College of Law and managing partner of a Chicago law firm that specializes in civil, criminal and appellate litigation.

Ryan’s bid for a reduced sentence stemming from his 2006 conviction on racketeering, fraud and other federal charges now rests with President Bush, who has nearly unfettered power under the constitution to hand out commutations and pardons, Adamski said.

“It’s really just a gut call for Bush,” he said. “And if he decides to commute, it’s finished. There’s no legal recourse for prosecutors, and citizens have no recourse either because they have no legal standing in the case.”

The prospect of a shortened sentence for Ryan has triggered a sometimes-jumbled debate in Illinois political circles. A fellow Republican, U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk of Chicago, has sent Bush a letter opposing commutation, while Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin has urged the outgoing president to free Ryan.

Durbin says commutation would not pardon the former governor or clear felony convictions from his record, but would allow the aging Ryan to spend his remaining years with family and his ailing wife, Lura Lynn.

Adamski says he sympathizes, especially with Ryan’s wife. But he says prison terms are based on the crime, not age or failing health.

“There are a lot of people in jail now who are in their 70s, 80s or even 90s,” said Adamski, who hosts a weekly radio program about legal topics on WGN-AM (720) in Chicago. “If a person gets a sentence, they have to serve the sentence.”

Adamski, a Democrat, says he admires Ryan’s campaign against the death penalty, and helped write two nominations seeking a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts, which including emptying Illinois’ death row and imposing a moratorium on executions.

“He did it for selfless reasons, not to promote any agenda other than the death penalty is wrong,” said Adamski, who writes and lectures on capital punishment. “To me, that was beyond courageous.”

Editor’s note: To contact Greg Adamski, call 312-332-7800; e-mail gaadamski@adamskiandconti.com