Father and son have nearly 50 years combined as NJC faculty

For two generations of judges in the same family, the time has come to “pass the torch.”
Retired Judge James L. Ryan, formerly of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Detroit, and his son, Daniel P. Ryan of the Third Judicial Circuit Court in Cincinnati, have been a part of the of the National Judicial College since its very beginning. Daniel Ryan started coming to the College in Reno, Nevada, when he was 5 years old with his father, who first attended the then four-week long General Jurisdiction course in 1967. Daniel remembers coming out for eight more summers as a family while his father taught sections of the General Jurisdiction course.

“In 1967, there was no NJC building here,” said Daniel. “Classes were held in Getchell Library and all over campus. I remember playing on the dirt hill where the college was being built. We initially stayed at White Pine Hall, later at the College Inn and even later at the University Inn.”

“It seems like yesterday that an errant baseball allegedly thrown by then seven-year-old Dan Ryan somehow found its way into and through a White Pine Hall window,” James remembers. “The jury remains ‘hung’ as to whether the cause was bad throwing by pitcher Dan, or bad catching by his brother Jimmy. That was July 1970.”

While Daniel didn’t admit to the broken window, he does remember playing baseball with all of the other judges’ children, as well as all of the other adventures they got to go on around the Reno-Tahoe area for the four weeks they were in town. “We would do daily activities such as horseback riding, camping, hiking and visits to the museum,” said Daniel. “Not only did we get to meet other judges, but we got to meet other judges’ kids.”

Daniel didn’t always want to become a judge, but he was always attracted to the law. Once he did become a judge, however, he knew exactly where he needed to go. “There’s a difference between being a judge and being a good judge, and it doesn’t happen by chance. You need education,” he said. “The NJC is one of the only places that provides professional development for judges. I knew that I didn’t know everything, so I wanted to learn everything I could.”

Daniel took his first class, General Jurisdiction, at the College in 1995. His father was still teaching at the College, and continued to teach at the NJC until 1998, retiring with more than 30 years as part of the faculty. Daniel followed in his father’s footsteps and began teaching at the College in 1996. “I was a discussion leader for an evidence course that I had previously taken,” said Daniel. “On Sunday night at our meeting before class that week, we were informed that the faculty member who was supposed to teach the course wasn’t able to make it into Reno. They asked if anyone had enough knowledge on the subject, so I volunteered. I had all day Monday and Monday night to prepare 10 hours worth of lecture.” Daniel remembers that he had to teach that course in his jeans. “That’s all I brought with me. Now, I wear a suit.”

Daniel has gotten to teach some of the same courses that his father taught, such as Advanced Evidence. “When he retired from the faculty, my dad said that it was time to pass the torch to the next generation, and so I took over his sections of the course.”

Daniel has now brought several of his children out to the College. He continues to teach, with almost 20 years as part of the faculty, as well as being a former chair of the Faculty Council, and he continues to attend courses at the NJC. “As I’ve moved up to different courts, the need for more learning increases because of the special programs and special issues that I encounter,” he said.