Michael Ryan, Vietnam War Hero and One of Our Most Respected Judges, Dies At Age of 66

Categories: News
We first met Mike Ryan, who died suddenly earlier today at the age of 66, shortly after moving here to work at this paper in August 1985. Then, he was a prosecutor at the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, and one of that agency's very best.
Michael Ryan.jpg
Mike Ryan died yesterday at the age of 66

He spent time with us (on background) discussing a particularly egregious murder case that he was prosecuting. Mike was patient, careful, ironic, and straight-forward in going over the details.

We immediately liked him, and appreciated so much that he trusted us with information crucial to our understanding of both the law and to the facts of the case.

Soon afterward, he became a Superior Court judge, again one of the best, the go-to guy on the bench in the big-time cases in the same way as was his close friend and colleague Ron Reinstein.

Ryan presided over the criminal trial of former Arizona Governor Evan Mecham, and a few years later, in the biggest political corruption trial of the modern era, the so-called "AzScam" case that nailed several state legislators.
On the day before one of the AzScam trials, Ryan ordered then-County Attorney Rick Romley into court to explain certain comments that Romley allegedly had made in public about one of the defendants, a greedy lawmaker named Carolyn Walker.

Romley took the stand in what became a classic courtroom moment. We were there.

The back stories' of the two men, Romley and Ryan, were moving: Both had been seriously injured while serving our nation in their 20s in Vietnam. Romley lost his legs there, Ryan wound up in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

After Romley tried to explain himself on the witness stand (it wasn't his best moment), Ryan stared down at him from the bench, palpably not happy at what he was hearing.

Finally, the judge spoke. He was anything but a screamer, but everyone in the packed courtroom could hear every word he said.

It was, as they say, a moment.

"I don't want to see you in here again," Mike Ryan told RIck Romley. "...Otherwise, bring your toothbrush."
 
He was telling the elected and powerful County Attorney not to speak out of turn about a defendant ever again or risk a spot in a jail cell.

Romley took it to heart, as well he should have.

We can't help but imagine how his successor Andy Thomas would have handled the same situation,

Andy surely would have taken the bully pulpit at a press conference as he and Joe Arpaio put a new set of investigators on Ryan's tail. It wouldn't have worked.

Mike Ryan eventually made it to the Arizona Supreme Court, where he distinguished himself for years as a thoughtful, fair and eminently respected jurist.

We stayed in touch with Mike, and had a glass of wine on rare occasion--though, unfortunately not for the past few years. 

Though he officially "retired" from the high court in June 2010, Mike Ryan worked yesterday on a case there (he remained on call when needed).

It was a place in the world that he loved and that loved him.

Then, sadly, he went home and died of an apparent heart attack.

For the record, Mike Ryan was a good citizen, and a even better person. 
 


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13 comments
AZANON
AZANON

Was an autopsy performed on Judge Ryan, or duh...Arizona!

Rollem45
Rollem45

Judge Ryan was a good friend, great American, thoughtful Judge and a classy human being. He is what we should all attempt to be. Just a decent guy wanting to make a difference despite having experienced a tragedy. Rest in Peace and may God bring peace and grace to your family. You were loved and respected.

Rick
Rick

Some in the community have been saying that the New Times paper supports chaos and anarchy and opposes anyone who wants a society devoted to law and order.  This article and others if have read here demonstrate that this paper supports quality law enforcement and government and that when men and women of integrity fill positions of authority, you will let the good news of their activities be made known.  If we had more public leaders of Judge Ryan's caliber in Arizona government, Arizona would stop being a national laughing stock.

Coz
Coz

So sad Arizona lost a good judge when there are so many others that aren't worth a shit.

Me
Me

Very well said.

Hock
Hock

He was a good man, and Arizona will miss him.

PTCGAZ
PTCGAZ

I really can't say I know who this judge was. Was the AZScam linked to the Charles Keating thing?

If so I might have read some of the stuff he wrote about it.. if not then it might have been another judge. Anyways.. RIP, thoughts for the family.

Leonardclark
Leonardclark

May the soul  of this honorable man who served his country rest in peace. My condolences to the family of this fair and honorable man.
Leonard Clark
1-31-12

85014
85014

What a nice statement of fact. Mike was a American jurist not occupied by politics or pretense. Our state leadership could learn from this man.

39tempe
39tempe

He was a respected jurist, and just a fine human being.  God speed your journey, god speed.  One of the best, the finest, the last of a dying breed.  Our legal bench and it's wisdom is dimenished.  His rulings were measured, studied and wise.  We are lessened by his loss.

PTCGAZ
PTCGAZ

It's too bad they aren't elected to positions in government. There are probably a few decent republicans, but most of them in this state need to be replaced for awhile to undo some of the damage done.

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