CHICAGO - George Ryan's defense lawyers rested their case Thursday, but not before federal prosecutors ripped into them, saying they had staged an overnight media campaign in which the former governor's wife went on Chicago television stations in a "desperate, orchestrated effort to influence this jury."
"This, judge, is an affront to the court," lead prosecutor Patrick M. Collins told U.S. District Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer, who is presiding over Ryan's racketeering and fraud trial.
Collins said television reporters were brought to the powerful Loop law firm of Winston & Strawn, which is representing Ryan, and granted one-on-one interviews in which Lura Lynn Ryan said her husband had been indicted only because he is an opponent of the death penalty.
"This is fundamentally untrue," Collins said. He said that the parade of reporters to the firm "went on all night last night - there were people tramping in and out of Winston & Strawn."
Prosecutors asked for a gag order barring attorneys from saying anything more about the trial until after the verdict, but Pallmeyer said she was reluctant to go that far.
Ryan's chief defense counsel, Dan K. Webb, the $750-an-hour star of Winston & Strawn's litigation team, said he didn't orchestrate anything and wasn't on hand for the interviews that took place at the law firm. He said the reporters themselves earlier on Wednesday had asked for a chance to interview Mrs. Ryan.
After the fireworks, Webb read a series of stipulations into the court record and then with no particular fanfare made a long-awaited announcement.
"With that, your honor, Mr. Ryan rests his case," Webb said offhandedly.
After co-defendant Larry Warner's lawyers rested their case, prosecutors immediately began calling rebuttal witnesses to the stand.
Ryan, 71, and Warner, 67, are charged in a 22-count federal indictment with racketeering, mail fraud and other offenses. Prosecutors say Ryan as secretary of state and later governor steered state leases and contracts to Warner and other close political friends.
Prosecutors say he was repaid with free vacations and gifts such as loans to his brother's floundering business, help with insurance when his apartment flooded and even the money to pay the band at his daughter's wedding reception.
Ryan and Warner say nothing they did was illegal.
In Mrs. Ryan's interviews, she said her husband was on trial because of his opposition to the death penalty and that witnesses had not been able to "tell their story."
Pallmeyer has barred mention of the death-penalty issue on grounds that it is irrelevant to the charges against Ryan. And her restriction was enforced last week against prominent critics of the death penalty, such as Sister Helen Prejean, author of "Dead Man Walking," and actor Mark Farrell, a star of TV's "M.A.S.H" series. They could say only that they talked with Ryan about such matters as "public policies" and "social policies."
Meanwhile, prosecutors said they wanted to explore the relationship between a key defense witness, U.S. Attorney Edward McNally, the top federal prosecutor in southern Illinois, and the Winston & Strawn firm.
It was unusual for a federal prosecutor to testify on behalf of the defense in a criminal trial and there was considerable friction between McNally and Assistant U.S. Attorney Zachary T. Fardon, who cross-examined him. But McNally was at one time a member of Ryan's defense team.
McNally testified that at a February 2001 meeting between Ryan and federal investigators, he questioned whether FBI agent Raymond Ruebenson was taking adequate notes. He said that instead of responding to him three federal prosecutors including Fardon and Collins just stared at him.
The Chicago Tribune reported Thursday that four former partners in the bankrupt Loop law firm of Altheimer & Gray have been sued by the firm's court-appointed administrator to pay back debts. But the Tribune reported that McNally has not been sued. It said that the administrator is represented by Winston & Strawn.
Fardon testified that he wanted to explore whether McNally's testimony was in any way connected with the lawsuit against partners in his former firm and the fact that, unlike them, McNally wasn't sued. Pallmeyer allowed Fardon and Winston & Strawn attorney Bradley E. Lerman, a member of the Ryan defense team, time to negotiate some mutually acceptable blueprint for exploring the issue.