>OP ED: Ryan’s character defense proves he is the bad guy we all have known

>Everyone agrees that defense attorney Dan Webb is among the best of the best – a really smart guy. There is only one conclusion to draw from his strategy in the trial of former Illinois Governor George Ryan. He is desperate.

Lawyers like to win on the merits of a case. If that is not possible, they try to win on technicalities of the law. If that is not possible, they try to win on emotional appeal. And if THAT does not work, they try to win on at all cost – the equivalent of kicking the television after all rationale repairs and adjustments have failed. Webb knows when he cannot win on the merits … the technicalities… the emotions of the jury … because he is a smart guy.

During the prosecution phase, Webb employed an extremely aggressive and high-risk strategy to try to break down witness. He engaged in a number of squabbles with the prosecutors. His cross examinations seemed more emotional than thoughtful and logical.

His first defense witness was offered up to show how it was that Ryan could walk around with wads of cash he never withdrew from his bank account. The defense argument was that a portion of the money came from “gifts” Ryan received from his minions, including the janitor (who got the gift money form the Ryan campaign fund). While a sleazy practice, Webb argued it was all very legal. To mount his defense, Webb had to admit Ryan was a greedy scumbag in order to counter the prosecution’s contention that he was a CROOKED greedy scumbag. Of course, having all but stipulated that Ryan is a greedy scumbag, a jury might find it easier to believe he is crooked as well. That’s the risk.

To counter Ryan’s image problem, Webb is now resorting to a tried and usually failed tactic. Character witnesses. After months of punishing testimony on Ryan’s lack of character, the defense hopes that a few people outside the issues of the case can polish the tarnished image.

The problem is, none of the character witnesses have an ounce of knowledge of Ryan’s character outside of very limited and narrow settings. His church pastor. This is like those priests who used to bless mobsters for coming to church regularly and being generous when the collection plate was passed.

Next cometh the doorman at his Chicago apartment. Yeah. The doorman, whose only knowledge of Ryan was an occasional nod and the passing of a folded bill instead of a handshake. Then there is that actor from the old M.A.S.H. series and author of “Dead Man Walking,” who only have had a limited association with Ryan over the death penalty issue.

(At the time of the pardons, it was speculated Ryan only granted them to establish an image for the upcoming trial. The defense use of character witnesses suggests validity to that supposition. Adding to the cynicism is the fact that Ryan was NEVER seen as a humanitarian – more of a ruthless autocrat.)

It appears form the character witness list that Ryan does not have anyone how knows him really well who will stand up for his character. Either his closest friends do not think much of his character, or they are in, or on their way, to prison.

Webb’s character witness strategy is a “Hail Mary pass.” You cannot fault Webb. Of course, it is a weak defense. Of course, it is risky. But when the merits of the case are stacked against you … nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Webb is a smart lawyer. So, I suspect he and his high-priced defense team (giving millions of dollars of free legal services to Ryan, however) is spending more nights on an appeal strategy than the ebbing proceedings in the district court. If Ryan takes the stand, you can rest assured that Webb sees a conviction on the horizon — because Webb is a smart guy.

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