Skip to main content

College of Law, legal community saddened by passing of Justice Michael D. Ryan


February 01, 2012

Arizona Supreme Court Justice Michael D. Ryan (ret.), “the quiet giant of the court” who was known for his warm demeanor and commitment to public service, died on Monday, Jan. 30, 2012. He was 66.

Justice Ryan, a 1977 graduate of the ASU College of Law, had retired from the bench in August 2010 to spend more time with his family, including wife Karen, three sons and two grandchildren.

Douglas Sylvester, interim dean, of the College of Law said Ryan was a dedicated ally who attended many of the law school’s events and was among the first to register for the 2012 alumni luncheon on Feb. 23.

“Justice Ryan was a great supporter, a true mentor for our students and a splendid example for our alumni,” Sylvester said. “He made the effort to attend every alumni event and fundraising dinner at the law school, taking the time to encourage attorneys who were just starting their careers and to chuckle at the stories of our great veterans. He was a man of carefully chosen words, and so when he spoke, people listened.”

A few years ago, the justice was the convocation speaker at the College of Law, and his message to the new graduates was classic Michael Ryan.

“Accept your successes modestly, express appreciation to those who have helped you, and remember that failure is another word for trying,” he told the class. “Keep your balance and perspective in life. Reach out to your friends, family, community to help you overcome the tough times.”

The law school is working on an appropriate way to honor Justice Ryan’s extraordinary legacy, Sylvester said.

In a statement issued by the Arizona Supreme Court, Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch called Justice Ryan a statesman who “dedicated his entire life to public service.

“He was a wonderful friend and colleague who will truly be missed,” said Berch, a 1979 alumna of the College of Law. “His kind, soft-spoken demeanor masked a brilliant jurist and the consummate gentleman who could always make me smile with his sharp wit. It is difficult to put into words the loss we all feel today.”

Justice Ryan served as a judge in Arizona for nearly 25 years. Before being appointed to the Supreme Court by Gov. Jane Hull in 2002, he served on the Arizona Court of Appeals for more than five years and on the Arizona Superior Court in Maricopa County for more than 10 years.

After receiving his bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., he served in the United States Marine Corp from 1967-69. He received a medical retirement because of wounds sustained in combat in Vietnam, and was awarded two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star.

In his retirement, Justice Ryan, a devoted Minneapolis Vikings fan, continued to serve the state, chairing the Arizona Supreme Court’s Arizona Regulation Committee and the Attorney Discipline Probable Cause Committee.

To read the full announcement from the Arizona Supreme Court, click here.

An article and a commentary about Justice Ryan were posted on The Arizona Republic’s website on Monday evening.