'Genuine' Judge Roll remembered in special court session | Remembering Jan. 8
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Remembering Jan. 8

'Genuine' Judge Roll remembered in special court session

Judge John Roll, one of the victims of the Jan. 8 shooting, was remembered Friday in a special court session. Roll, who was Arizona's chief federal judge before he was gunned down, was called "genuine" by nearly every speaker at the memorial session.

Over 200 people attended the session at the Tucson Music Hall, including more than 20 of Roll's colleagues from the federal bench.

Speakers told stories depicting Roll as a hardworking, humble and caring man.

Roll was an excellent judge who set the standard for others while remaining "humble and human," said Chief Judge Roslyn Silver, Roll's successor as the state's chief federal judge, as she opened the proceedings.

"He was a person of exceptionally good character," she said.

Judge Roll was an important person, but didn’t realize it, said Senior District Judge Robert Broomfield, calling his slain colleague "a true leader" with a "broad smile and two-fisted handshake."

Roll had "honesty, integrity and moral excellence," he said.

Some have talent, some have less, Broomfield said about other judges, but “John was a master of it.”

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Judge Roll was a "thoughtful and dedicated jurist" who managed the biggest caseload in the nation, said Michael Waits, who was Judge Roll’s law clerk from 2009 to the day of his death.

He called his colleagues and employees his "court family," and would start each day discussing current events or talking about last night’s Wildcat game, Waits said.

The reason why people are so deeply touched by his death is because he truly cared about others, said District Judge Raner Collins, who knew Judge Roll for over 35 years.

“You could spend five minutes with John and you could walk away knowing that he cared,” Collins said.

He was a mentor, role model, and friend, Collins added.

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said Roll had "an unflagging work ethic" in a letter read by Silver.

O'Connor said she was "happy and proud to call him a colleague. There is no way to replace him."

Other letters were read by Silver, including those from Chief Justice John Roberts, U.S. Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl, and former Sen. Dennis DeConcini.

"He never placed himself above anyone," DeConcini said.

"Working for Judge Roll was like working for your father," said one employee in a note from the court website read by Judge Jennifer Zipps.

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"A genuinely good man has left us — and left us so much. Thank you and goodbye, John," Broomfield said.

In memory of Roll, the Federal Bar Association is donating a bronze bust of the judge that will sit in the lobby of Tucson's federal courthouse, said FBA national president Fern Bomchill. The bust, which is being sculpted by Tucson artist Nicholas Burke, is "larger than life to exemplify the larger-than-life character of Judge Roll," she said.

Also in his memory, both the federal courthouse being built in Yuma and the jury assembly room at the Tucson courthouse have been named after Roll.

Roll graduated from the University of Arizona in 1969 with a bachelor of arts, and then from the UA’s College of Law in 1972.

In 1987 he was appointed a state appeals court judge in the Division Two Arizona Court of Appeals, and a year later was named the presiding judge for the division. In 1991 he served as a criminal superior court judge in Pima County before his nomination to the federal bench in 1991 by President George H.W. Bush.

Confirmed unanimously by the Senate, Roll was sworn in on Nov. 25, 1991, and in 2006 was named the chief district court judge in Arizona, a position he held until his death.

Roberto De Vido contributed to this story.


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Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.com

An appropriately 'larger than life' bronze bust of Roll, seen here displayed on a poster at the special session, will be placed in Tucson's federal courthouse.

Irish blessing

Silver read a traditional Irish blessing, which she said was one of Roll's favorites, to close the special session.

  • May the road rise up to meet you.
  • May the wind be always at your back.
  • May the sun shine warm upon your face;
  • the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
  • May the Lord hold you in the palm of His hand.