High Court Gives Chance at Relief to Ex-Gov. Ryan

     (CN) - Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan will get another chance to challenge his mail-fraud conviction, the Supreme Court ruled Monday.
     The disgraced politician, who is serving 6 1/2 years for racketeering, conspiracy, tax fraud and lying to the FBI, found relief in precedent set just last week by the high court.
     On April 24, the justices said appellate panels cannot deny a prisoner's habeas petition based on issues that the state has chosen not to raise.
     Ryan's second appeal to the 7th Circuit argued that jury instructions and several evidentiary rulings were defective in light of the Supreme Court's ruling in Skilling v. United States. The errors, Ryan contended, permitted the jury to convict him on an honest-services theory without finding a bribe or kickback.
     But the federal appeals court found that Skilling permitted his fraud conviction because the record established that Ryan took bribes in exchange for official services.
     "Jury instructions that misstate the elements of an offense are not themselves a ground of collateral relief; likewise with erroneous evidentiary rulings," Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote for the court.
     Whereas lawyers for Jeffrey Skilling challenged the mail-fraud statute directly, Ryan's lawyers contributed to the jury instructions that they now claim caused prejudice, thus forfeiting the challenge, the three-judge panel found.
     "If Ryan's lawyers had done what Skilling's lawyers did, the controlling decision today might be Ryan rather than Skilling," Easterbrook wrote, referencing the fact that Ryan's petition for certiorari beat Skilling's to the Supreme Court.
     In 2006, Ryan was convicted of awarding state contracts to friends and donors during his terms as secretary of state and governor in exchange for money and gifts. He is now 78 years old.