Judge John Roll Killed In Tucson Shooting Rampage

For 22 years, former Rep. Jim Kolbe served the Arizona district now represented by Gabrielle Giffords. He's also a longtime friend of Judge John Roll, who died in Saturday's shooting spree. Kolbe talks Steve Inskeep about Judge Roll, as well as his sense of the political climate and reactions in his home state.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Federal Judge John M. Roll could not be saved on Saturday. He'd been attending a mass nearby. Then he went to the Safeway supermarket where Representative Giffords was holding her event. The people who knew Judge Roll include Jim Kolbe. For 22-years, Mr. Kolbe was a Republican congressman. He represented Arizona's eighth congressional district before Gabrielle Giffords did. And he's on the line.

Congressman, thank you very much for joining us.

Representative JIM KOLBE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Would you give us a sense of what kind of a person Judge Roll was?

Rep. KOLBE: Well, he was like a judge's judge. He was one of these very fair-minded people, very highly respected by the legal community, as well as the other community - community at large. He just had an extraordinarily good reputation as being a very fair-minded judge.

He was - had been made chief judge there in southern Arizona. We have a, as you know, a very large docket, both because of immigration and because of drug cases there. So there's a lot of cases. He had a couple of very sensitive cases that once caused him to have his own security.

But he was just a - just one of these really gentle, kind people that you just couldn't help but like.

INSKEEP: When he had his own security, when he was in those sensitive cases involving guns or involving immigration, what did he talk of - did he talk about that, his security?

Rep. KOLBE: I don't think - no. He never did to me, talk about it. I think it was just one of those things that the marshals felt that there was a need for security because of the sensitivity of the case that he was handling. As you know, there's been - along the border there, with the drug cases, there's been a tremendous amount of violence. And they felt that there needed to be some protection for this individual.

INSKEEP: Although, if he was a judge's judge, I imagine he took that security and went ahead and ruled as he ruled.

Rep. KOLBE: He did. He was known for making very fair rulings. I think they were ones that generally got upheld. I don't - I have looked at the statistics - were very often usually upheld at the Ninth Circuit with the next level of appeal, because the rulings were good rulings.

INSKEEP: Mr. Kolbe, I want to ask about the broader political climate in which this shooting toke place. Now, we should emphasize, we don't really know the motives of the shooter. We just have pieces of the evidence. But the sheriff in Tucson did raise the question of the tone of political rhetoric in the time leading up to this shooting. What are your thoughts on that?

Mr. KOLBE: Well, I think the sheriff is right that we need to lower the rhetoric in this country. I've been very disturbed by the polarization of our American political scene and certainly what's happened in Congress.

However, having said that, I think it's quite inappropriate and wrong to suggest that there's a connection between that and this particular incident. Those kinds of comments ought to be the kinds of things that we say when we're talking to each other and when we're talking in a seminar on political communication or political rhetoric. But there's just no evidence that it's connected at all to this case.

This looks, from everything we can see so far and obviously, the investigation is going on. But from everything we can see, it appears that this is a very deranged individual who acted on his own without, seemingly, any kind of political motivation. Certainly nothing I've seen of his writings on Twitter and Facebook and elsewhere suggests that there was any kind of coherence to what he was doing.

INSKEEP: Yeah, coherence would be the word dismissing. There are certainly references to political text and so forth, but it's not clear what the motive would be.

Mr. KOLBE: Right.

INSKEEP: That said, you were talking about what you would say in a political seminar in that kind of situation. What would you advise Americans to do, going forward?

Mr. KOLBE: Well, I would advise Americans to lower the tone. I think we need to have a more civil discourse. We need to have greater respect for each other. We need to understand that people in political office, while we disagree with them, they're trying for the most part - they try to do their very best, and that we need to have some respect for those who are willing to put themselves out there and run for political office. So I do think that that's an important - and that's very important.

I think the polarization of our system is such that it's very shrill on both sides. It's not something that's limited to one side. It's very shrill on both sides, and I do think that we need to lower that tone.

But, again, I want to emphasize, I don't think I don't see a connection between what I'm saying there and this particular incident.

INSKEEP: Mr. Kolbe, thanks very much for joining us once again.

Mr. KOLBE: Thank you very much.

INSKEEP: Jim Kolbe was the congressman representing Arizona's Eight District. He's a Republican. He was replaced in that district by Gabrielle Giffords, who is recovering today.

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