Judge Tom Ryan

Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Tom Ryan

Thomas Michael Ryan was born in 1960, in Batavia, New York, and the details of his life have been covered previously in a biographical profile by David Bean, published in the March 2006 edition of the Multnomah Lawyer. On February 28, Governor Ted Kulongoski issued a press release announcing the appointment of Thomas Ryan to fill the judicial vacancy on the circuit court created by the retirement of the Hon. Elizabeth Welch from Position 18 on the court. This position was held by Judge Mercedes Deiz from its creation in 1973 until 1993 and thereafter by Judge Welch.

On that February day, Tom Ryan was on the eve of his third anniversary working as a judge pro tempore for the court. Since March 1, 2004, Tom served on the court's criminal and civil referee rotations - presiding over proceedings for traffic and parking violations, felony and misdemeanor first appearances, probation violation dispositions, DUII diversion proceedings, small claims, landlord and tenant matters, and matters in the one-courtroom circuit court facility in the City of Gresham. He is the ninth member of the court to have served in the referee program prior to becoming a judge of the circuit court.

Judge Tom Ryan took his oath of office as an appointed circuit court judge on March 1, and agreed to serve on the family court. The family court now consists of 10 judges and four referees; it has jurisdiction over all domestic relations, juvenile, probate and misdemeanor offenses involving domestic violence. This assignment fits Judge Ryan well; he has several years experience as an attorney in juvenile dependency and delinquency cases as well as experience on the criminal side for the court's domestic violence cases.

Reflecting on his six months as a circuit court judge, Judge Ryan said that sitting the previous three years as a part of the referee program provided him some helpful preparation. "Being a referee prepares you for staying on task, dealing with large dockets, and trains you to give courteous attention to each party even if there is very limited time," he said.

By contrast, as a judge on the family court, he finds "the role of the judge requires much more preparation." He says that it is necessary frequently to work into the evening hours preparing for the next day's assignment. He acknowledges that some of the late hours are due to his own desire to be familiar with the issues in an assigned matter and the applicable domestic relations law. While he has extensive practice experience in juvenile and domestic violence cases, he is still learning the details of domestic relations law and procedure.

Judge Ryan appreciates the bar's preparation and patience when appearing before him. He appreciates more the bar's and pro se parties' willingness, when appropriate, to adopt a practical approach to finding a solution to a problem that often appears intractable at the start of a hearing. Moving parties to a mutually agreed upon solution is the best possible outcome, in Judge Ryan's view. He cites "listening" as one of the most important skills he learned as a lawyer, employed constantly as a referee, and now relies upon heavily as a circuit court judge. Judge Ryan points out that often he is doing all of the listening early in a hearing to learn the priorities of the parties as they argue their claims. Once he understands those priorities, he says, his job then becomes getting the parties to listen to each other as problem solvers rather than as litigants.

Judge Ryan notes that his settlement skills, also learned as a lawyer, are required constantly in presiding over domestic relations cases. He is most pleased when the parties participate in the development of a practical, creative solution to establish a parenting plan or property division. Those decisions need to be straightforward, as simple as the issues permit, and, if possible, mutually agreed upon, he observed. Getting the parties to that point is often more time consuming than just hearing the parties and ruling, but, he recalls, he got some very good advice from Judge Julie Frantz as he came onto the bench; she told him "you always want to take the time to get to the right answer."

Judge Ryan says he values and looks for creativity in settling cases - working within the law to find the right solution to the matter the parties have brought before the court. He learned this well as an attorney practicing criminal law before Judge William J. Keys. Those who knew Judge Keys know how hard and creatively he worked to settle matters. Judge Ryan loves being on the circuit court. "I get up in the morning, and can't wait to get to work," he said. Judge Keys would have summarized such joy and enthusiasm as "...isn't this a slice of heaven?" And, for Circuit Court Judge Thomas Michael Ryan, it is.

Authored by Doug Bray and originally published in the October 2007 Multnomah Lawyer
Updated for the Internet in 2012