Federal, local leaders dedicate John M. Roll U.S. Courthouse

Federal, local leaders dedicate John M. Roll U.S. Courthouse

Yuma Sun Article — April 24, 2014

Speaker after speaker praised the legacy left by former Chief Judge John M. Roll during Thursday’s dedication of Yuma’s new federal courthouse named in memory of the judge who had championed its creation.

But the most touching moment came when former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords haltingly made her way to the podium with the help of Pia Carusone, and stood by smiling while Carusone related how the former congresswoman and Roll had worked together for the benefit of the federal judicial system in Arizona.

Then Giffords stepped to the microphone and said she just wanted to say hello, relating how she has been working hard on therapy to recover from the gunshot wound she suffered on Jan. 8, 2011, in an attack that took the life of Roll and five others at a Tucson shopping center that day.

“I’m still fighting to make the world a better place,” she said, “and you can, too. Be passionate. Be courageous.”

Her presence at the dedication was significant, commented Rep. Raul Grijalva, as it served as a reminder of Roll’s life and untimely loss.

The dedication was a bittersweet moment for Rep. Ron Barber, Giffords’ former staffer who filled her seat in Congress after the shooting.

“It’s an honor to name this building for this great man,” Barber said, grateful that the courthouse will stand as a monument to Roll and his legacy. “He fought hard to get this courthouse built. Generations of judges, lawyers and the public never had the opportunity to know John, but they will be reminded of him every time they enter this building.”

But he would rather that Roll had lived to see the day the courthouse was completed and put into use, Barber said of the man he had counted as a friend since their college days.

Barber related that Roll had come to Giffords’ town hall to thank the congresswoman for her help on behalf of Arizona’s overwhelmed federal court system. Barber was the last person to speak to Roll before the judge was gunned down and believes that Roll may have saved his life.

“Tucson and our courts suffered a great loss that day,” Barber said. “I’m so proud that Gaby was with us today to help dedicate the courthouse to John.”

Speaking on behalf of Roll’s family, his son Robert shared fond memories of family vacations with his parents and two brothers.

“Dad always had a can-do philosophy,” his son said. “This dedication reflects Dad’s can-do philosophy. We are very honored and humbled.”

Yuma Mayor Douglas Nicholls observed that Thursday’s dedication of the federal courthouse came while the community has been celebrating the centennial of it becoming a charter city. He noted that the community was built through the hard work of many who came before.

The same is true for the creation of the John M. Roll United States Courthouse, Nicholls said, pointing out that many, but especially Roll, championed the courthouse over the last decade.

“That is why the dedication of this courthouse in the name of Judge Roll is extremely appropriate and very special to the Yuma community,” the mayor said. “And that is the spirit of our centennial celebration. In the centennial we celebrate the efforts of many people like Judge Roll who provided the groundwork for the better and prosperous future of Yuma.”

Other speakers included Sen. John McCain, Sen. Jeff Flake, Rep. Paul Gosar and Chief Judge Raner Collins.

Over 400 people attended the ceremony, held at the Pivot Point Conference Center around the corner from the courthouse because of the large crowd. During the ceremony security in downtown Yuma was very strict due to the number of judges and other officials who attended the event.

Following the ceremony, tours were held of the courthouse, where it was explained that the 56,000-square-foot building houses two magistrate courtrooms, judges chambers, jury facilities, probation and pretrial services, district and bankruptcy court services and U.S. Marshals Service. It has holding facilities for up to 120 defendants, and there have been times the federal court in Yuma has processed that many prisoners – mostly for immigration violations.

The Yuma courthouse, 98 W. 1st St., was built at a cost of $33.4 million with funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It was designed as a
sustainable and energy-efficient building and is expected to receive a “gold” rating from the U.S. Green Buildings Council.

The courthouse is significant to the community’s riverfront redevelopment efforts, said Charles Flynn, executive director of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area. It is considered one of three major building blocks in that effort, along with the Pivot Point Conference Center and the Hilton Garden Inn.

“Everything else can be built because of those three,” Flynn said.