by Mark Scheinbaum
Angel Fire, N.M.
January 8, 2011
WHY WAS U.S. JUDGE JOHN ROLL THERE?
ANGEL FIRE, N.M, Jan. 9, 2011 -- One question among many that will arise from the Tucson rampage is why U.S. District Court Chief Judge John McCarthy Roll of Arizona was at the event. Appointed by President George H.W. Bush in 1991 and elevated to chief judge of the United States District Court for Arizona in 2006. He was also a former U.S. Attorney and had 40 years of law and service to his credit.
He also had three handsome sons, a loving wife, Maureen, and at 63 every reason to expect a long life ahead.
Now he's dead, shot by a suspended Pima Community College student, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, whose rights he would have preserved, whose drug conviction he might have expunged, whose right to make those strange, rambling YouTube videos he would have defended. He would have treated Loughner's mental illness with special respect. That was Judge John Roll - and now he's dead.
Rep. Giffords' "Congress On the Corner" in the Sierra Vista neighborhood was attended by just 20 or 25 people. It was designed to give constituents a chance to meet her. With Rep. Gifford, they could get help with problems involving government agencies, such as VA benefits or Social Security, from someone willing and able to do something about them.
Judge Roll was recently best known as the author of a 2009 ruling that permitted a #32-million lawsuit brought by Mexican illegals who got hurt when they crossed an Arizona rancher's land to go forward; the ruling made him a target of death threats. He couldn't talk about his rulings, because they are always subject to appeal.
He was appointed for life. He didn't face elections. He fought for Congressional funds for the Ninth Circuit, but he probably wouldn't do it at a cionstituent issue event. He wouldn't go to the event to answer legal questions, either,m because his purview as the liberal circuit's Chief Judge is so wide it might embrace any that could be asked.
Except in the case of impeachment - not an issue - or when calling for action on stalled judicial appointments, new facilities or larger appropriations for the courts, a federal judge would ordinarily contact a Member of Congress through the mail or official channels, such as the U.S. Attorney's office. Nothing, however, prohibits such contact when no legal conflict is present.
Outside their courtrooms, judges are just like anyone else. If they have special license plates, as most do, police might give them a break for a minor traffic violation - or might give them a ticket. Judges usually try hard to avoid the public spotlight, and the media had been invited to the Giffords event.
Judge Roll didn't seem to be the sort of person one would encounter at a gathering like her constituent event, which was announced by her office just the day before.
He might have been in the Safeway store to shop. Friends say he just stopped by to say hello to Rep. Giffords, a friend who recently helped Judge Roll win a "declaration of Judicial emergency" that might get more funds and judges from Congress for Ninth Circuit courts, according to the New York Times - in short, to say thank you. For the simplest of reasons, now he's dead.
AR Correspondent Mark Scheinbaum is a former United Press International reporter and veteran broadcaster.