updated 10/26/2007 8:31:48 PM ET 2007-10-27T00:31:48

Former Gov. George Ryan was ordered Friday to start serving a 6½-year prison sentence in less than two weeks, but his lawyers held out hope they could keep him out of prison pending a U.S. Supreme Court appeal.

U.S. District Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer set a Nov. 7 surrender date for Ryan and co-defendant Larry Warner to report to prison.

Within hours, his attorneys asked the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for an extension of his bond that would keep him free while they take the case to the nation’s highest court.

The attorneys called Ryan a devoted grandfather of “modest means” who is not a flight risk.

Ryan has been free on bail since he was convicted in April 2006 of steering state contracts to friends, using tax dollars to run his campaigns and covering up driver’s license bribery.

The conviction capped one of Illinois’ biggest political scandals ever, bringing with it nine years of investigations and trials that wrecked Ryan’s career and sent dozens of others to jail.

In a 6-3 split decision Thursday, the appeals court refused Ryan’s and Warner’s request that all the judges rehear their appeal. A three-judge panel already had turned them down in a 2-1 decision.

Ryan’s attorneys said if the appeals court denies their request for a bail extension they will ask the Supreme Court. The first step would be to put the matter before Justice John Paul Stevens, a Chicago native and the member of the high court who handles 7th Circuit matters.

Ryan's last hope
Former Gov. James R. Thompson, the head of Ryan’s defense team, on Thursday acknowledged the Supreme Court is the last appeals hope for the 73-year-old Ryan.

“If the Supreme Court won’t hear our appeal, that will be the end of the line and Gov. Ryan will have to report to prison,” he said.

Thompson said Ryan was understandably disappointed by the court’s ruling.

“I told him to keep fighting,” Thompson said. “He said he would keep fighting. What do you think he’s going to do, quit? He won’t quit.”

Thompson noted that at Ryan’s age six years behind bars would be “a real threat to the governor and his health.”

“But he’s also a tough, resolute guy — you all know him — and he will do whatever the court tells him to do with the honor and dignity that he always shows,” Thompson said.

One legal expert, Richard Kling, a professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law, said it was “a very long shot” that the U.S. Supreme Court would take the case and an even “longer shot” that Ryan would be allowed to remain free on bond while the justices weighed such an appeal.

“The fact that he was allowed to stay out as long as he’s been allowed to stay out is quite rare in the federal system,” Kling said.

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