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Family, friends mourn judge killed in Tucson shootings

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 15, 2011

TUCSON - At the U.S. courthouse here Friday afternoon, the doors to the fifth-floor courtroom of Arizona Chief U.S. District Judge John M. Roll were locked. No one answered a buzzer to his office suite. The computer screens that ordinarily list cases were blank, and the hallways, usually bustling, were empty.

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The courthouse had shut down for the morning so employees and judges could attend funeral services for Roll, 63, one of the six people killed last weekend at the meet-and-greet for Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D).

The courthouse is usually one of the busiest in the country. Roll had pushed to get more judges to help handle the caseload.

But Friday, inside the airy courthouse, only a few lawyers, clerks and bailiffs worked. The mood, they said, has been somber.

"There's no guidance or protocol for how to move forward, especially when you lose someone like John Roll," said Cindy Reyna, a law clerk to a federal judge, as she sipped a soda in a coffee shop next to the courthouse. "He was one of the hardest-working judges. We need to continue to serve the court and follow him as a role model."

Ron Zellon, an interpreter at the federal courthouse who knew Roll, said: "We're still in shock.

"On Friday, we're working with [Roll]; Saturday, he's gone," Zellon said. "It makes you think about your own mortality. You look up to him, and you would think that something like this wouldn't happen to him. It makes you realize he was just at the wrong place at the wrong time."

About 1,700 mourners filled St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church on Friday morning for a 21/2-hour service, which began with the sound of bagpipes floating out into the crisp desert air as people entered the sanctuary.

It was the second day in a row that mourners gathered at the same church, about 20 minutes from the city's center. On Thursday, they grieved for Christina Taylor Green, who at age 9 was the youngest victim of last weekend's shooting rampage.

Roll was remembered as a humble, well-respected, compassionate and unbiased federal judge. He had a 40-year legal career.

The service included a reading from Corinthians, and the music included the songs "On Eagles' Wings" and "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling."

"He treated everyone the same - whether staff at the courthouse who worked in the cafeteria or fellow members of the court," said Ted Geare, who along with his wife, Kathleen, was friends with Roll. "He treated everybody with humility and dignity."

A Pennsylvania native, Roll was a graduate of the University of Arizona and its law school. He started as a bailiff at Pima County Superior Court in 1972, the year he finished law school, according to the Web site of the Federal Judicial Center.

Roll was appointed to the federal bench by President George H.W. Bush in 1991 and had been chief U.S. district judge in Arizona since 2006. He previously served as an Arizona state appeals court judge and assistant U.S. attorney in the state, focusing on prosecuting drug cases.

Roll had been at the center of Arizona's intense political battle over immigration. Last year, he received hundreds of threats after he allowed a lawsuit filed by illegal immigrants against a rancher to go forward. U.S. marshals put Roll under 24-hour protection for about a month.

He was known to Tucson locals as "Mr. Smiley" because of his cheerful demeanor when he arrived at the city's YMCA for his daily swim.

Roll was a bystander at the constituent meet-and-greet Giffords held last Saturday. He was leaving a nearby supermarket when he spotted a friend who was an aide to Giffords, and he walked over to say hello.

Investigators allege that Jared Lee Loughner, 22, was targeting Giffords and shot her at close range, then opened fire on those nearby, killing Roll, Green and four others. Thirteen people were wounded.

Roll was the fourth federal judge killed in modern history, but he was the first to be slain in a random act of violence apparently unconnected to any of his cases.

The last federal judge who was killed was Robert S. Vance of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, who died in 1989 after the explosion of a pipe bomb mailed to his home near Birmingham, Ala. A Georgia man, who prosecutors said was carrying out a vendetta against the courts and had targeted Vance, was convicted in that and other letter-bombings.

At the courthouse Friday afternoon, Frank Caquias, the lead court security officer, said that he had known Roll for more than 30 years.

"Sure, he'll be missed by staff, other judges," Caquias said. "He was an honest, friendly man who demanded respect in his courtroom. But you try to put it in the back of your mind. You go on. Life goes on. Roll would want us to go on."

Staff writer Jerry Markon in Washington contributed to this report.


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