Judge honored with national jury innovation award

District Court Judge Thomas Kelly Ryan of Johnson County, Kansas, was awarded the 2022 G. Thomas Munsterman Award for Jury Innovation presented by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) Oct. 20.

Named for the founder and former director of NCSC’s Center for Jury Studies, G. Thomas Munsterman, the award recognizes states, local courts, organizations and individuals that have made significant improvements or innovations in jury procedures, operations and practices.

Retired Judge Gregory E. Mize presented the award to Ryan at the Kansas Judicial Conference last week. The judge was honored for his efforts to engage with the public to develop a jury process that would address public health concerns while also protecting constitutional rights and resolving pending cases.

“Judge Ryan’s general approach of engaging with affected individuals is an excellent illustration of NCSC’s approach to ‘user-centered justice’,” said Paula Hannaford Agor, director of NCSC’s Center for Jury Studies. “Engaging directly with prospective jurors about court policies and procedures that directly affect their health and wellbeing demonstrates a fundamental respect for jurors both as people and as key participants in the justice system.” 

During the height of the pandemic, Ryan connected with Kansas City Public Broadcasting System to coordinate a segment of its “Week in Review” broadcast that invited 12 randomly identified individuals to share their pandemic-related reservations about jury service. During the “Justice Deferred” segment, the participants viewed a video of Ryan explaining the process and safety precautions in place and answered questions to better understand their concerns.

“Even before the pandemic, Judge Ryan was investing time into making the jury process more accessible and enjoyable for the public. He played a key role in a years-long effort to replace an aging, overcrowded courthouse with a new, state-of-the-art facility in Johnson County,” wrote Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Marla Luckert and Judicial Administrator Stephanie Bunten in their nomination. “In the opening ceremony for that new courthouse, Judge Ryan introduced it as “the people’s courthouse,” a place where the community could safety engage in “one of the most cherished civic duties … serving as a juror for a trial.”

Ryan was appointed to the 10th Judicial Circuit Court bench in 2008 and served as chief judge from 2018 to 2021. Prior to becoming a judge, he was in private practice for more than 20 years.