John M. Roll
Updated: May 6, 2011 1:50PM
TUCSON, Ariz. — Named Arizona’s chief federal judge in 2006, U.S. District Judge John M. Roll won wide acclaim for a career as a respected jurist and leader who had pushed to beef up the court’s strained bench to handle a growing number of border crime-related cases.
His death Saturday, at the hands of gunman apparently intent on assassinating Arizona U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, stunned those who mourned the loss of a devoted, talented and gentle man.
“I have never met a more sincere . . . fair minded, brilliant federal judge or any judge for that matter in my whole life,” Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said.
Dupnik emotionally recounted Roll’s final morning. A typical Saturday: a trip to church, then to the store and most likely a plan to go home to help with chores. But before heading home, he apparently stopped to visit briefly with Giffords at an event she was holding for constituents.
Judge Roll, 63, was appointed to the federal bench in 1991 by President George H.W. Bush. Judge Roll previously served as a state trial judge and as a judge on the midlevel Arizona Court of appeals. He previously worked as a county and state prosecutor.
Named chief judge for Arizona in 2006, Judge Roll pushed for more judges placed on the court’s bench as border violence has swelled the district’s caseload.
“Judge Roll was a widely respected jurist, a strong and able leader of his court, and a kind, courteous and sincere gentleman,” said Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the circuit that includes Arizona. “He worked tirelessly to improve the delivery of justice to the people of Arizona.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he recommended Roll for federal appointment.
“Words are inadequate to express such a profound loss to his family, friends, state and country, but it is appropriate to note that a man of great qualities and character was struck down today,” McCain said.
Judge Roll received death threats in 2009 after he denied a southern Arizona rancher’s motions to dismiss a lawsuit filed on behalf of illegal immigrants who alleged that the rancher detained, assault and threatened them, the Arizona Republic reported.
“It was unnerving and invasive . . . by its nature it has to be,” Judge Roll told the Phoenix newspaper in a mid-2009 interview.
As a federal judge, Roll handled a wide variety of cases.
He ruled in 2009 that federal wildlife officials used incorrect criteria when deciding against designating critical habitat and develop endangered jaguars. In the 1990s, he was among several federal judges who ruled that the Brady gun law’s requirement for a records check by local authorities violates the Constitution’s 10th Amendment.
Judge Roll is survived by his wife, Maureen, three sons, and five grandchildren. AP