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Security Tight at Arizona Funeral for Slain Federal Judge

John Roll 640

his undated file photo provided by the Federal 9th Circuit Court, shows U.S. District Judge John Roll. (AP)

Security is tight at a Tucson, Ariz., church today. Gov. Jan Brewer, Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl and former Vice President Dan Quayle are among those attending a funeral for a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge John Roll was one of six killed during an assassination attempt on Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Saturday.

There are a lot of patrol cars and SWAT officers, and vehicles entering the parking lot had to pass through a checkpoint, where marshals spoke with everyone.

An hour before the service, cars were lined up for almost a mile, waiting to enter church grounds. Four large buses also brought mourners to the church.

One woman came to today's funeral and yesterday's for 9-year-old Christina Green. She says, "It's important to support all the families and let them know Tucson cares."

Doctors say Giffords, who was shot point-blank in the head, is making miraculous improvement.

The security stood in contrast to another funeral at the same church the day before for the youngest shooting victim, Christina Taylor Green.

Roll, 63, was heralded as a stern but fair-minded judge on the bench, and as a fun, family-loving man outside court. The father of three was Catholic and attended daily Mass. He had just come from a service when he stopped by the local Safeway to see Giffords, by some accounts to thank her for her support in addressing the issue of a federal judge and court shortage in Arizona.

Roll died on a Saturday full of mundane errands, but he was no stranger to death threats and controversy during his years on the federal bench.

Two years ago, Roll presided over the case of 16 illegal immigrants who had sued border rancher Roger Barnett, saying he threatened them at gunpoint, kicked them and harassed them with dogs. Barnett argued that the plaintiffs couldn't sue him because they were in the U.S. illegally, but Roll upheld the civil rights claim and allowed a jury to hear the case.

The panel eventually awarded the illegal immigrants just $73,000 -- much less than the millions sought -- but the case was a flash point in a state that struggles to curb crossings at its border.

Roll received death threats was under around-the-clock protection while hearing the case.

"It was unnerving and invasive ... by its nature it has to be," Roll told the Arizona Republic in a mid-2009 interview.

He said he followed the advice of the Marshals Service to not press charges against four men identified as threatening him.

Roll also had taken a leading position in pressing for more courts and judges to deal with the dramatic increase in federal cases caused by illegal immigration. A week before his death, he declared a judicial emergency in southern Arizona as the number of federal felony cases more than doubled, from 1,564 to 3,289, the Los Angeles Times reported.

He asked the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for an emergency declaration extending the time to bring felony defendants into court from 70 days to 180 days, the paper reported.

Roll previously served as a state trial judge and as a judge on the midlevel Arizona Court of appeals. He also worked as a county and state prosecutor.

Roll was a Pennsylvania native who got his law degree from the University of Virginia. He is survived by his wife, Maureen, three sons, and five grandchildren.

While Roll attracted the vitriol of some, he was loved and respected by his colleagues -- and by those attorneys who appeared before him, whether they prevailed or not.

"He was famous for being able to say so many genuinely nice things about people without having to consult notes, for he so genuinely loved people and had such a remarkable mind," said 9th Circuit Judge Mary M. Schroeder of Phoenix, a former chief judge of the circuit.

"Judge Roll will be greatly missed and will continue to provide inspiration for the generations of lawyers and judges who were fortunate enough to know him."

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