By Jamey Dunn
Former Republican Gov. George Ryan will not receive any of his pension benefits from the time he served as an elected official in Illinois.
The Illinois Supreme Court ruled today that Ryan is not eligible for the benefits he earned as a Kankakee County official, state legislator and lieutenant governor. Ryan was convicted on corruption charges in 2006 and is serving his sentence in federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind. He is due for release in 2013.
Ryan was convicted of fraud, racketeering, lying to the FBI and tax violation. All these charges are based on crimes he committed as secretary of state and governor of Illinois. His lawsuit contended he should still receive pension funds from the offices he held that were not connected to his conviction. Five of the six Supreme Court Justices did not agree.
The court's opinion, written by Chief Justice Thomas Fitzgerald, a Democrat, said, “Although Ryan held multiple public offenses over the course of his time in the [pension] system, all of those offices were in service to a single public employer — the state of Illinois.”
The ruling is based on the notion that although Ryan may have had different jobs, he broke the law and betrayed the trust of a single employer. Just because he did not do that in every job he held, the court said it does not mean that employer should now have to pay him a pension. “As the victim’s of Ryan’s crimes, the taxpayers of the State of Illinois are under no obligation to now fund his retirement.”
Justice Anne Burke, a Democrat, wrote the only dissenting opinion. She said that the court contradicted earlier rulings that allowed officials to keep pensions from public jobs even after they had been convicted of wrongdoing in another office. Burke said that there must be a connection between the crime and the job to take pension benefits away.
“I understand the very human impulse to want to punish Ryan for his wrongdoings by depriving him of all of his pension benefits. However, while I sympathize with such impulses, our constitutional obligation is to follow the law, not our personal preferences,” Burke wrote in her opinion.