Judith W. Rogers, whom President Reagan nominated yesterday to a seat on the D.C. Court of Appeals, has served for the last four years as Washington's chief legal officer, directing a staff of about 100 lawyers in the D.C. Corporation Counsel's office.
Past and present city officials and private lawyers praised her performance as corporation counsel and said yesterday that Rogers would make an excellent appellate judge, citing her evenhandedness and her reputation for examining all sides of an issue before reaching a decision.
"She possesses what can be termed a very highly developed sense of judicial temperament," said Joseph E. diGenova, the chief assistant U.S. attorney here. "She certainly also has the experience and the knowledge."
In Washington's unique governmental framework, Rogers, as corporation counsel, carried out many of the duties normally performed by a state attorney general in addition to acting as a city and county attorney.
The corporation counsel's office defends the city in all civil lawsuits and prosecutes juvenile cases and major traffic offenses, such as drunk driving. In addition, the office gives legal advice to the mayor and other top city officials.
During her tenure, Rogers gained a reputation for being an intelligent and analytical lawyer with a reserved and deliberate style both in private and in public. Unlike some of her predecessors, she has not sought publicity and has preferred to work quietly behind the scenes.
She is credited with increasing the office's percentage of black and women attorneys, particularly in key supervisory posts. The office had been criticized by some in the past for having too few blacks and women.
"She did it in a quiet, professional way,"said former City Administrator Elijah B. Rogers (no relation), who worked closely with her until his recent departure from city government.
Before Mayor Marion Barry named her corporation counsel, Rogers had extensive experience with District home rule issues. Her detailed grasp of city government and the home rule act are seen as an asset because the Court of Appeals, as the city's highest appellate court, frequently is asked to interpet the city's home rule powers.
While employed at the U.S. Department of Justice in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Rogers worked on the legislation that led to the reorganization of the city's court system. She later served as the general counsel to the Commission, which was set up by Congress to study the effectiveness of the D.C. government before home rule.
Rogers, 43, is divorced and lives on Capitol Hill. She was born and raised in New York City. After graduating from Radcliffe College, she received her law degree from Harvard Law School.
Rogers moved to Washington in 1964 and served for a year as a law clerk in the District's Juvenile Court. She then worked as an assistant in the U.S. attorney's office for three years.
In 1972, she joined Mayor Walter E. Washington's administration as a legislative aide and in 1975 was made a cabinet-level special assistant to Washington, serving as the mayor's chief lobbyist with the City Council and Congress.
After Barry's election in 1978, Rogers served as Washington's transition director. Barry kept her on as an assistant city administrator for intergovermental relations, before naming her corporation counsel in April 1979. She is the first woman to hold the post.