Last Wednesday, the Learned Hand Awards continued its run as one of the most impressive legal events of the year. If it were a franchise, its success would be comparable to McDonalds.

Or maybe Katz’s Delicatessen, given that the event sponsor is the American Jewish Committee, Arizona chapter.

In fact, any misconceptions about the host were eliminated in the luncheon’s opening introductory video, which set the stage for the day’s festivities. As hundreds of people tucked into their salads at a legal event, they heard a voiceover warn that America had a dire need for “energy independence.” Curiosity piqued, diners listened to an impassioned lecture about Iran, a “longtime opponent of the Jewish State.”

By the time we started our salmon, the event had segued from the heavy-handed to the elegant, as Rabbi John Linder offered his well-wrought invocation. He invited listeners to consider what kind of world they wanted to live in. Answering for the room, he said it is one in which we hold dignity and respect for all. One in which we recognize that a threat to one is a threat to all.

“May we leave today with our sleeves rolled up, ready to perspire and work for justice.”

Perspiration was the perfect lead-in to the accomplishments of the three honorees: Lindsay Marshall of the Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall, and Perkins Coie partner Howard Cabot.

As I’ve said before, the Learned Hand awards are remarkable for many reasons. One of the most intriguing is the high caliber of the three introductory speeches honoring the three awardees. This year, they were delivered, respectively, by Milagros Cisneros, Illinois Judge Kevin Lyon and Paul Eckstein. Each did a terrific job at encapsulating a life and a career.

Events like this remind us that a legal community is comprised of more than a geographic region. Arizona is no more likely to be a cohesive and collaborative place than, say, a bus station or a supermarket if we lack leaders and a vision of excellence. That is what lawyers like Marshall, LaWall and Cabot provide a fortunate bar.

Ariz. Vice Chief Justice Hurwitz, Mar. 14, 2012

That good fortune was poignantly brought home early in the lunch when Vice Chief Justice Hurwitz delivered a moving introduction. The jurist who will soon be headed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reminded attendees that on the same day we sat in a Hyatt ballroom, Justice Michael Ryan’s interment was occurring in Arlington National Cemetery.

Justice Hurwitz’s request for a moment of silence was kind, but unnecessary. For at the utterance of Justice Ryan’s name, the cavernous room had grown silent and pensive as a community recalled another who had given time, talent and much perspiration to the cause of justice.

Here are more photos from the event.

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An announcement from the Arizona Supreme Court:

Funeral Services for Retired Arizona Supreme Court Justice Michael D. Ryan Announced

Phoenix, Arizona – A funeral mass to honor Retired Arizona Supreme Court Justice Michael D. Ryan have been set for Friday, Feb. 3, 2012. A scholarship fund has also been established in his name. Details below:

SERVICES:

A funeral mass will be held at St. Francis Xavier Church, 4715 N Central Ave Phoenix, AZ on Friday, February 3, 2012 at 3:00PM with visitation one hour before.

TO HONOR JUSTICE RYAN:

The Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation – Honoring Marines by Educating Their Children 

The Foundation provides college scholarships to children of Marines & Navy Corpsmen – with an emphasis on priority going to those children who have lost a parent in combat.

Additionally, Justice Ryan was to receive the “Service Above Self” award on May 12, 2012 from the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation for his lifetime of service, and dedication to the Marine Corps & to Arizona. The Marine Corps Scholarship Committee has established a special scholarship fund to honor Justice Ryan. Information on how to donate to the fund may be found here.

Justice Michael Ryan

The State Bar of Arizona issued the following statement this morning in regard to the death of retired Arizona Justice Michael Ryan, who passed away on Monday from an apparent heart attack. He was 66 years old.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Jan. 31, 2012

Contact: Rick DeBruhl, Chief Communications Officer

Phone: (602) 340-7335, Mobile: (602) 513-6385

E-Mail: rick.debruhl@staff.azbar.org 

State Bar Mourns the Passing of Arizona Supreme Court Justice Ryan (Ret.)

PHOENIX – Jan. 31, 2012 – The Board of Governors, along with the staff of the State Bar of Arizona, mourn the passing of retired Arizona Supreme Court Justice Michael D. Ryan.

According to Board President, Joe Kanefield, “Justice Ryan was a legal giant whose kind demeanor made all who appeared before him feel at ease.  He presided over some of the most important cases in our State’s history and set an example of courage and perseverance.  His wit and sense of humor are legendary.  He has earned his place in Arizona history and as one of our finest jurists.  He will be dearly missed by the legal community.”

Bar CEO John Phelps added, “The work and accomplishments of our true heroes are often lost in the noise and commotion of a world that too often honors celebrity, rather than service.  Mike Ryan, pure and simple, was a true hero in every sense of the word.”

Justice Ryan was an active member of the Bar, serving on the Disabilities Task Force. While serving on the Supreme Court, he helped to create the current lawyer regulation system.

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Justice Michael Ryan, Arizona Supreme Court

In June, we heard the news that a longtime Justice on the Arizona Supreme Court was retiring this month. Justice Michael Ryan has been on the Court since 2002. Before that, he was on the Court of Appeals and the trial court. As a lawyer, he worked as a prosecutor.

Here is the Court’s press release on Justice Ryan’s retirement.

Last Monday, Justice Ryan sat down for an interview with Ted Simons, the host of Horizon, a news and interview program on the Phoenix PBS affiliate. It was a great interview of a man with a fascinating career. (In fact, it was so good, I wrote a complimentary e-mail to Ted and his executive producers, David Majure and Mike Sauceda. It’s not often that a writer will admit that he wished he had done an interview himself, but I put it out there. But I’ve still gotten no reply, which means public TV must be just as overloaded with e-mail as everyone else.)

Here is Horizon’s description of the interview:

Justice Michael Ryan recently retired from the state’s High Court after a judicial career that spans more than two decades. During that time, he presided over the criminal trial of former Governor Evan Mecham, the AzScam political corruption trial, and the Phoenix Suns drug case. Hear what Justice Ryan has to say about his career and the state of Arizona’s judiciary.

The video is finally online. If you haven’t watched it, it will definitely be the best 13 minutes you spend today. Click here to start watching.