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The [Sunday] Papers

Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer unsealed 1,283 pages of transcripts on Friday documenting sessions she had in her chambers with lawyers in the George Ryan trial, ensuring that the saga involving jurors who did not disclose criminal backgrounds as asked when being considered for the panel would continue to dominate the news through the weekend.

To me, the sequence of events puts to rest conspiracy theories about prosecutors leaking juror backgrounds to the Chicago Tribune, which first revealed the anomalies, in order to get pro-Ryan jurors expelled, or, similarly, that defense lawyer Dan Webb knew all along about the jurors' false answers and kept that information in his hip pocket ready to spring when it looked like things weren't going his client's way.

It all seems far too convoluted for either side to have gamed out that way.

For example, when likely Ryan holdout Evelyn Ezell was antagonizing and alienating her fellow jurors, the Ryan defense team fought vigorously to save her place on the panel. But even Dan Webb couldn't construct an argument to save Ezell when it was revealed that she not only had a string of arrests for child neglect, assault, and drug possession but was wanted on a warrant by Broadview police for driving on a suspended license.

And Robert Pavlick, often lumped together in speculation with Evelyn Ezell as a possible Ryan holdout, perhaps only because they were dismissed at the same time, was in fact bounced mainly based on concerns by the defense; Webb argued that Pavlick might bear a grudge against Ryan because Ryan was secretary of state when Pavlick was convicted of DUI. (Pavlick also was discovered to have "a rap sheet'" that included a weapons arrest, according to the Tribune's report.)

And when the Ryan defense team started thinking about asking for a mistrial, Ed Genson, the lawyer for co-defendant Larry Warner, argued against one, saying his client couldn't live through another trial and couldn't afford one anyway.

After the backgrounds of Ezell and Pavlick were revealed, it was Pallmeyer who asked for background checks on the rest of the jurors, and the U.S. attorney's office - agreeing it was unfortunately necessary - which carried them out.

What struck me most reading the coverage was the feeling that Pallmeyer was a bit naive and the jurors unbelievable in their assertions that they didn't understand the question on the jury questionnaires about criminal histories.

For example, juror Raul Casino said he had forgotten about his DUI. True, it occurred 44 years ago.But do you forget a DUI arrest? Or did Casino simply think it was so long ago it wasn't relevant? That seems more plausible to me, but it's also troubling to think that someone might conveniently forget a DUI in order to get on a case.

But, as the Chicago Sun-Times reports, Pallmeyer was "sympathetic" to Casino.

"Grilling Mr. Casino is one of the most distasteful things I have done in this job," she said. "This is a decent man who has given us six months of his life."

It shouldn't have been distasteful; the man endangered a six-month trial years in the making. Casino may indeed be a decent man, but how does Pallmeyer really know?

Juror Kevin Rein, who was found to have a 26-year-old arrest for punching his pregnant sister in an argument over cats, told Pallmeyer he thought the arrest, dropped when his sister didn't press the charge, had, for some reason, been "expunged."

Similarly, juror Charles Svymbersky told Pallmeyer he thought his 23-year-old conviction in connection with a stolen bicycle had, for some reason, been erased from the books.

You would think you would know if you have a criminal record or if any record you once had has been wiped clean. And if they and other jurors truly did not understand the jury form, how in the world could they be expected to understand the jury instructions defining such concepts as racketeering and governing how to reach a verdict?

Most disturbing is the case of foreperson Sonja Chambers, particularly the revelation that she is a fan of Court TV. You get the idea that these folks really wanted to be on this jury.

After Chambers was brought in for questioning before the judge, Webb argued (persuasively in my view) that she had given three different explanations for the her false answer on the jury questionnaire.

Perhaps what really did it for me concerning Chambers was her explanation about talking to Dennis McLaughlin, who runs a coffee stand at the Metra station in Lisle that Chambers frequents. McLaughlin called in to WLS-AM one day and said that a woman juror in the Ryan trial had discussed the case with him.

After McLaughlin picked out Chambers from a batch of photos, she was brought in for questioning before the judge. Chambers acknowledged buying her morning coffee from McLaughlin, but said, "I don't know him that well to talk to him about anything at all, except for, 'Can I have hazelnut in my coffee?'"

"Pallmeyer found Chambers more credible," the Tribune reported. "'I think I would need a solid sense she is lying to me in order to conclude that I ought to remove her at this point,' she said. 'I don't get the sense that she is lying to me.'"

But how would McLaughlin have known that Chambers - whose name he did not know but whose face he recognized as a regular customer - was a Ryan juror if she didn't tell him?

Pallmeyer learned two days later that Chambers answered falsely on her jury questionnaire as to any involvement with court proceedings and lawsuits, despite having been involved in a difficult divorce that included requests for orders of protection as well as having been a defendant in a civil lawsuit filed against her by a furniture company.

Not a good track record.

And with all that Court TV watching, you'd think Chambers would have understood a relatively straightforward question about any past entanglements with the justice system.

Style Channel: The Sun-Times noted in its reporting on Ezell that she was wearing a pink sleeveless top and matching slacks (and smoking a cigarette) at the time a reporter spoke to her.

Eye on Flannery: On Eye on Chicago, Channel 2's Sunday morning public affairs show, veteran political reporter Mike Flannery surmised that the Ryan jury really didn't base their verdict on the evidence, but simply on their apparent dislike of Ryan and co-defendant Larry Warner. "If they didn't do this, they did something else," Flannery accused the jury of thinking.

Here's what I don't get: If you bought into the racketeering conviction of Scott Fawell for running a massive operation that traded jobs and contracts for political favors and campaign contributions; if you bought into the racketeering conviction of the George Ryan campaign fund Citizens for Ryan; if you bought into Dean Bauer's guilty plea for obstruction of justice (while he was the inspector general!); if you bought into bigwig operative Roger Stanley's guilty plea for money laundering; and if you bought into the other 70 or so convictions and/or guilty pleas in the Operation Safe Roads investigation (including more than 30 employees from Ryan's Secretary of State office), why is it so hard to buy into a conviction for the man on top of the pyramid for whom everyone else's guilty actions were done on behalf of? For the guy at the top who ultimately benefitted the most?

The previous trials, convictions, and guilty pleas are almost circumstantial evidence enough to prove George Ryan's guilt as the boss man of a criminal enterprise.

The Beachwood Tip Line: At the top of the real pyramid.


Posted on April 24, 2006

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