2015 Recipient Judge Kevin V. Ryan (ret.)
Raised in San Francisco by immigrant parents, Judge Kevin V. Ryan (ret.) attended St. Ignatius College Preparatory, where he was a decorated scholar-athlete and captain of the varsity football and track teams. He went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts in History from Dartmouth College in 1980 and a Juris Doctor in 1984 from the University of San Francisco School of Law.
Judge Ryan’s legal career began as a prosecutor with the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, where he handled serious crimes including homicides and violent gang prosecutions. He was serving as a member of the Violent Gang Suppression Unit when Governor Pete Wilson appointed him in 1996 to serve as a Judge on the San Francisco Municipal Court. In 1998 he was honored as the Municipal Trial Judge of the Year by the San Francisco Trial Lawyers’ Association. That same year the Irish-Israeli-Italian Society of San Francisco recognized him for “Outstanding Service to the Community.” The following year he was elevated to the San Francisco Superior Court, where he served until 2002.
Judge Ryan was serving as the Presiding Judge of the Criminal Division of the San Francisco Superior Court when President George W. Bush appointed him to serve as the 48th United States Attorney for the Northern District of California, which stretches from Monterey to the Oregon-California border. As the highest-ranking federal prosecutor in the Northern District from 2002 through 2007, he oversaw the investigation and litigation of all criminal and civil cases brought and defended in the district on behalf of the United States. In that role he supervised over 100 Assistant U.S. Attorneys in San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose who handled everything from white collar and organized crime to civil rights violations, environmental crimes, and national security matters. He also served on the President’s national Corporate Fraud Task Force and the Department of Justice’s Task Force on Intellectual Property as well as on the Executive Board of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.
In 2008, Judge Ryan was appointed by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom to serve as his Deputy Chief of Staff and as the Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. He joined the administration during a period of troubling crime trends in San Francisco, and he was specifically tasked with driving policies designed to reverse those trends. During his tenure, the City witnessed a dramatic turnaround in homicides and other violent crimes.
After 25 years in public service, Judge Ryan left to practice law in the private sector. Even with a successful legal career in which he has been recognized by the Daily Journal as one of the Top 100 Lawyers in California, he continues to serve, including as an Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of San Francisco School of Law, where he teaches a course on white-collar crime. He also has served on the Board of Directors of the Schools of the Sacred Heart, the Board of Governors of the USF Law School Alumni Association, the Executive Committee of the USF Inns of Court, and the Board of the Northern California Chapter of the Special Olympics, and his volunteer service includes work with the City Youth Now program helping juveniles caught up in the justice system as well as active support for the Janet Pomeroy Center for the disabled. Given his dual Irish and American citizenship, it is no surprise that Judge Ryan holds a special place in his heart for the Irish-American community where he has been active his entire life, including with the Hibernia Newman Club and the American Ireland Fund. He also taught law at the National University Ireland, Galway, and at Cork University, Ireland. He and Anne, his wife of 31 years, together serve the poor and the sick with the Order of Malta. They are the proud parents of two adult children, Patrick and William, and are very active participants at both St. Ignatius and St. Dominic parishes as well as in the larger Catholic community.
In recognition of his dedication to follow in the footsteps of our patron through a career devoted to public service in law and personal service to family and the community, the St. Thomas More Society of San Francisco proudly bestows the 2015 St. Thomas More Award upon the Honorable Kevin V. Ryan (ret.).
Homily of Most Reverend Gordon D. Bennett, S.J., Bishop Emeritus of Mandeville
Your Excellency, Dear Brother Priests and Deacons, Brothers and Sisters in Consecrated Life, Members of the Bench, Members of the Bar, Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:
The readings we have just heard are as beautiful as they are sober; and they help bring to light the rationale for the establishment of this wonderful tradition of the Red Mass and this yearly observance of the Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit. The vision Ezekiel experienced in the valley of the dry bones is an affirmation by God of God’s power to put fresh flesh onto the skeletons from which life had fled long ago. And while Ezekiel’s eyes take in this stunning phenomenon, his ears, simultaneously, receive God promise: “I will put my spirit in you that you may have life.” God’s Spirit is the source of our life. Without the Spirit of God, we are merely the bones of the dead, scattered helter-skelter over the floor of the valley of death. The gospel reading is another promise from God, this time from the lips of Jesus, God’s human face: “When the Advocate comes, being the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.” It is the Holy Spirit who gives life and it is the Holy Spirit who leads us to all truth.
No wonder, then, that, as colleagues in this noble profession, you gather together each year to meditate on the themes of life and of truth, and you invoke the Holy Spirit of God to give you life and to lead you to all truth. And no wonder that you gather in memory of one of the iconic members of your vocation, St. Thomas More, lawyer and martyr, who is given the titles “Promoter of Life” and “Guardian of the Truth.”
So, for our reflection this afternoon, I would like to invite you to meditate on your particular vocation to be guardians of truth and on what it means, in concrete terms, to be led by the Holy Spirit to all truth. Is that not what your vocation is all about: the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?
While I was searching for words which would elevate this homily to the heights of a closing argument by any of you, I mulled over three quotations about truth which I thought might provide a launching pad for our meditation.
The first is one I learned from my work with Alcoholics Anonymous: “The truth will make you free, but first it will make you miserable.” The second comes from the great American writer, Flannery O’Connor: “The truth doesn’t change according to our ability to stomach it.” Either of these might have achieved the goal of leading us into thoughtful consideration because both of them are part of our lived experience. But the one I chose was this one from Fr. Romano Guardini, the Italian philosopher-theologian from the last century: “True illness of the mind and spirit sets in when a man no longer cherishes truth – when, in the depths of his soul, truth ceases to be for him, the primary, the most important concern.”
I think that what Fr. Guardini observed about an individual, i.e., that mental and moral illness ensue when truth ceases to be the primary value in life, can be applied as well to a culture, to a society, and to a body politic as well. When truth is not the primary value, true illness of mind and heart ensues.
Unless we have been living in a coma, we would have to acknowledge that there are pathological elements afoot in our culture today; and all of them, to some degree, result in a kind of deliberate mental laziness and a kind of spiritual and moral torpor.
Some will say that these manifestations of cultural dis-ease are merely the inevitable result of the phenomenon of change. Fair enough. But we all know that not all change is progress just as not all movement is forward. And some will attribute these manifestations to the predictable consequences of our culture’s narcissism, individualism, relativism and misguided sentimentality. There’s no doubt that the presence and prevalence of these worldviews in our social commerce seriously jeopardizes our ability to discern and to pursue anything resembling the common good because they so severely subvert our ability to communicate with each other on any significant level.
So I would suggest that, beneath all of these symptoms, there is a single malignant cause for our contemporary social malaise: we are replacing the search for truth with default thinking. Default thinking: automatic, unconscious, easy, uncritical ways of thinking that usually incline us toward habits that promote our own immediate needs and feelings which, we naturally assume, should determine the priorities of the whole world.
I wonder, for example, if you are using your default thinking on me right now. When I came to the pulpit, and you had never seen or heard of me before, did you say to yourself: “OK, so the face and body are Denzel Washington, but the mind? Is he Clarence Thomas or Al Sharpton?” Have you already, without knowing or hearing me, reduced me to qualities that may or may not apply to me? Have you already decided that I am useful to you only if your default thinking allows you to continue to listen to me? Have you already decided not only what I am going to say, but also whether whatever I say will support or challenge your own assumptions?
Default thinking inclines us to rely unquestioningly on the cowardly anonymity called “safety of numbers,” relying for our truth on polls and fashion and on the lives of the famous and of the infamous. Default thinking forces us to sleep-walk inside a culture of indifference, a culture of superficiality, a culture of sensuality and a culture of waste. Default thinking allows us to attempt to draw the false distinction between what is legal and what is right. The culture in which we live does not discourage us from engaging in default thinking. As the young American writer, David Foster Wallace” observed: “The world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self.” Wallace also indicated the cure for this illness. He said: “The trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.”
Default thinking, while it might be the way of proceeding for culture these days, is not worthy of you. It is not worthy of you to allow default thinking to encourage judgments and decisions based purely on ideology and prejudice. Nor is it worthy of you to allow default thinking to influence you to favor persons or ideas to which you are naturally drawn. When this is the lawyer’s process, the truth, of which, like St. Thomas More, you should be the guardian and protector, and which is the bedrock of your calling, becomes one’s personal property rather than what it should be: the human community’s guarantee of justice. When default thinking is the lawyer’s process, it is impossible for justice to be either objective or blind.
Because default thinking is contemporary culture’s mental process, truth in our day has only the same force as opinion or rumor or power or fashion or talking points or spin. The search for truth devolves into mere confirmation of prejudice, resulting in the defensive, frantic clinging to cherished beliefs, the strident and totally uncivil demonization of difference which has come to characterize so much of our public discourse.
In the blogosphere, on cable news, on talk radio, trivializing truth is pathetic; in the law, trivializing the truth is fatal, an invitation to social and moral chaos.
Certainly, one of the most important contributions your profession can make to our contemporary culture is simply to affirm or renew your own passion for critical thinking, your own passion for personal integrity, your own conviction that we are a culture bound together and supported by law, your own passion for the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. And, hopefully, this is an aspiration you will share with all the other vocations which make up a just society and which assist a truly human society to thrive.
Putting flesh on the dry bones of this high aspiration might just yield the culture we all long for: a culture in which we allow the truth to lead us to the affirmation that all persons are created equal but that all persons are not forced to be identical; culture in which there is continual honest and respectful dialogue about the values and behaviors which describe and constitute the common good; a culture in which we can still appeal to our own conscience rather than simply defer to the government; a culture, lastly, which realizes that justice itself is meaningless unless it springs from another, a higher, imperative which is, of course, love. Love is the highest human aspiration in all spheres whether secular or spiritual. It was St. Thomas More who, when trying to explain his decision to follow his conscience to his heartbroken family, said: “Finally, (i.e. in the end), it’s not a matter of reason; finally, it’s a matter of love.”
The Holy Spirit leads us to all truth, and the road to truth leads us to love, the love of the God who puts flesh on dry bones; and the truth will lead us to the love of one another, of all others, of all others without exception.
Come, Holy Spirit, lead us to all truth, the truth that leads to love. Come, Holy Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.
Remarks of Judge Ryan
Thank you very much, and good evening.
First, in the spirit of the St. Thomas More society, I’d like to make a public service announcement:
The Oakland Diocese is standing up a pro-bono legal clinic—the Pope Francis Legal Help Center— in 2016. The goal of the Center will be to promote justice and foster reconciliation in the community. The Clinic will fulfill its mission in two ways: it will provide free legal representation for those who cannot afford it, and in areas that may not be well served by the legal market.
Legal services will be open to everyone of all faiths and backgrounds. There are four areas that the clinic is going to focus on: Landlord-Tenant, Elder Abuse, Immigration, and Employment (discrimination claims). The Clinic will also put an emphasis on informal mediation in an effort to avoid litigation if possible.
I hope that those of you that “feel the call” can and will help. The clinic will be supported by the Order of Malta and has the full backing of Bishop Barber, SJ.
Now, my very short comments.
I want to take this opportunity to thank the St. Thomas More Society for this very special award. I am truly touched by receiving it, and it is a capstone, for me, of a 30-year career in the law.
I would also like to thank his eminence Archbishop Cordelione for presiding at the mass and for being here this evening; his eminence Bishop Bennett for his moving and thoughtful homily; for the co-celebrants Fathers Healy, Hurley, Bonfiglio, Gagan, and of course, Brother Draper! And I would like to recognize other members of the religious life for their service for the greater glory of God. Finally, I want to say how happy I am to see all of you here tonight, it is humbling.
I want to speak briefly to my career and focus on the new or young lawyers here tonight. I have had a wonderful career in the law. Interestingly, the law was, in a way, chosen for me. My father, God rest his soul, was from Ireland, and to him and my mother, education was everything. My “orders” were to get a shingle, period. The law made most sense…. being a doctor was not an option! Nor was the religious life!
Now, you have to understand the mixture, if you will, or the intersection of my “Irishness” and my Catholicism. The combination of the first-generation immigrant experience, which, amongst other things, fostered a great love of this country, and being a committed Roman Catholic in an increasingly secular society, instilled in me, like others of a similar background, a desire to “serve.” The Jesuits who taught me to be a “man for others” furthered this pull.
So, I became a prosecutor with Alameda County—the best job I ever had. The allure of the law for me was never about money. Many people fail to realize that good prosecutors, regardless of religion, are working to protect and to serve. Our goal was justice: for the defendant, for the victim, for society. In my view, to do that job well, one must have a sense of balance and a moral compass to help you make some very difficult decisions that come with the power entrusted in you by the state.
This is where my faith helped and challenged me every day. Some would say that I didn’t listen to that inner voice enough as I was a bit of a “hard ass.”
As you well know, it’s also not easy being a Catholic, and it’s sometimes downright hard being a Catholic lawyer or judge. At least it is for me. As Justice Siggins spoke about last year, we, as Catholic lawyers, are often faced with legal predicaments wherein there is a conflict between church doctrine and secular law: the beginning of life; the end of life, the taking of life. For me, as a Catholic public employee, the challenge was in how to confront and reconcile these conflicts.
Let’s take the death penalty as an example. I was confronted often with questions such as: should I bring a capital case against a defendant or defendants; should I, as a lawyer, handle cases that have the potential for the sanction of death; should I vigorously argue for the death penalty; should I sentence another human being to death?
As this example clearly shows, we have a unique calling as Catholic lawyers and judges, and this calling adds a difficult dimension to our practice. How do we Catholic lawyers confront and deal with evil. Evil is not a legal term, but a religious one . . . and yet I saw it almost daily in court. Do we, as Catholic lawyers and Judges, with a formed notion of evil versus good, have a responsibility that transcends the secular calling or law?
For me, this conflict has always presented a struggle, but one that has kept my faith alive and my conscience engaged. My advice: embrace it and God will guide you!
It’s been a wonderful 30 years — many ups, some downs, but at least I wasn’t beheaded like More!
Let me close this part of my remarks by quoting another Dartmouth grad, Daniel Webster: “The law, it has honored us, let us honor it”
In closing, I want to take just a moment to recognize some special people in my professional and personal life.
I was lucky to have strong men guide me when I was young, and now strong women surround me: my mother Kathleen, who has been at my side my entire life, and my wife of 31 years, Anne. She is my best friend. Thank you both so much and for putting up with me!
The men and women who are here and who helped shape me as a boy, young man, and a lawyer and judge:
Bishop Bennett, S.J.
Coach Gil Haskell
Justices Corrigan, Jenkins, Hanlon, Reardon, and Dondero
Judges McBride, Clay, Kelly, and Collins
Claude Perrasso and Judge Perrasso
John Meehan, who hired me into the DA’s office
And finally, but not least, the SI Class of 1976. You guys rock!
Thank you all for being here tonight. What a remarkable journey I have had, and I thank God for it and all of you.