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Law alum bids farewell to Supreme Court

August 18, 2010

Arizona Supreme Court Justice Michael Ryan (Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, Class of 1977) retired from his position as associate justice on Friday, Aug. 6, after serving as a judge for nearly 25 years. Ryan, who was appointed to the high court in 2002, also served on the Arizona Court of Appeals and the Arizona Superior Court.

“Clearly, serving on the Arizona Supreme Court has been the highlight of my career, but I have truly enjoyed every court I have served on,” Ryan said. “With retirement, I look forward to continuing to serve my community, but this will allow me to spend more time with my family as well as allow flexibility to work on various public service projects.”

Ryan was honored by the other four justices and their staff during a party on Thursday, Aug. 5, at the courthouse in downtown Phoenix. Guests included the court’s director, Dave Byers, State Bar of Arizona President Alan Bayham, Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Zlaket (ret.), and several of Ryan’s past and current law clerks.

Byers noted that Ryan presided over several high-profile cases as a Maricopa County Superior Court judge, including AzScam, a political corruption scandal involving members of the Arizona legislature, the Phoenix Suns’ drug case and the 1988 criminal trial of the late Arizona Gov. Evan Mecham.

“Michael Ryan is the quiet giant of our court,” Byers said. “He’s not the most flashy, if you will, but whenever Mike says something, people listen.”

Bayham, who graduated from the College of Law in 1976 and knew Ryan in law school, described the judge as “even-tempered and hard-working.”

“It’s been an honor to know you, and to have followed your progress over the years,” Bayham said. “Our court has never been better than when you were on it.”

Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch (College of Law, Class of 1979) narrated a slide show that traced Ryan’s life from twinkle-eyed baby to bearded law student to distinguished judge. Berch suggested that Ryan, a devoted Minnesota Vikings fan, become “the Brett Favre of the judiciary” by coming out of retirement once in awhile.

“He is, in all honesty, all the things you’d want in a judge – he’s smart, patient, kind, courageous, temperate, honest, and yes, he does have a sense of humor,” Berch said.

Ryan, who would have preferred no send-off, thanked his judicial assistants and clerks, the staff attorney’s and clerk’s office and the court’s security detail for making his job easier, his wife Karen, with whom he has cared for more than 80 high-risk infants before their adoption or return to their parents, and the other justices.

“It’s very difficult for me to leave,” Ryan said. “It took a long time for me to make the decision.”