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Colorado's First Public Defender

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       Rollie was born February 21, 1925, the third child for Rollie Ray Rogers and his wife, Mary Emma in the southeastern township of Las Animas, in the county of Bent, in the state of Colorado; a product of a pioneering family that immigrated to the area from East Saint Louis, Illinois.

       Las Animas was an ideal setting to raise children. A community small enough in size to allow children to expand their life experience by freely roaming the neighborhood with their friends, thereby, acquiring sensibilities about adventure and personal responsibility for their actions. People skills that would prove to be very admiralty utilized by Rollie in his chosen profession of practicing law.


     Among the many activities that he engaged in during his childhood was the hunting for Native American Indian arrowheads and other artifacts south of Las Animas in the area the locals called the Cedars. The terrain was hilly and covered with cedar trees (bushes actually) and sparsely inhabited by people. These frequent hunting adventures led to his devout interest in Indian culture and artifacts. Another interest that lasted his lifetime was the love of animals. His older sibling, his only brother, DeVerne and he were privy to have a donkey and a cart during their teen years. 

From this experience he acquired a love of exotic pets such as llamas, donkeys, a steer he made a pet, and an assortment of dogs. His last dogs were a pair of Dalmatians. This coupling produced a litter of pups, which as they grew he and his second wife, Shirley, became attached. They could never bring themselves to give them away and were the caretakers of this pack of rambunctious Dalmatian for the duration of the dogs’ lives.


        Rollie adopted as his own symbol a      Cheyenne beadwork design found on the ceremonial shirt of a Cheyenne brave.  The design (above), in red and blue, on a white background, adorned his belt buckle, his bolo tie and the tiles on his kitchen table. 


Rollie's own teepee.





     Columbian School                 B.C.H.S.

     Rollie attended Columbian Elementary and Junior High School and graduated from Bent County High School now known as Las Animas High. Shortly thereafter he enlisted in the U. S. Army and served for the duration of World War II.

      Rollie's father, Rollie Sr., the head baker in the Dietary Department of the Ft. Lyon Veteran's Hospital (later to be called the Ft. Lyon Veteran's Administration Medical Center) was given the credit for introducing young Rollie to the processes of the law. According to Rollie himself, "My dad thought it would be a good idea for me to see a murder trial. So every day during the length of one trial, we went to court. I don't know why, but I knew from then on that if there was any way in the world, I wanted to be a lawyer who defends people."

     Rollie further stated, "I never would have been able to become a lawyer without the GI bill." He had served in Asia during his tour in the Army.

     He attended Denver Law School and graduated in 1951 and began a private practice in Denver where he started his career in defending clients.

     The year 1969, Rollie accepted the appointment to become Colorado's first Public Defender (as well as the first in the nation). He was the titular head of the Public Defenders Office with 22 office statewide manned by forty-six young and eager lawyers. From the beginning, he enticed to this program young, fiery, talented attorneys eager to work hard with an indifference to monetary reward. Rollie took on this job with the dead-certain belief that poor people deserved the best possible defense.

     Everyone who applied for a job as public defender faced the piercing cross-examination conducted personally by Rollie. Attorneys who were deemed fit had to be bent on helping people in trouble and have an intense hatred for human suffering. This meant a person who "would feel bad if somebody had to go to prison, somebody concerned about what the conditions would be if that person goes to prison."

     This became the tradition in the Public Defender's Office, and today any Coloradoan accused of homicide or any other felony can be thankful for the best defense possible from the team of lawyers available who come from this agency.

     Arapahoe County District Judge Jack Smith, who admired Rollie, said of him; "I love Rollie. He is my hero. Rollie was a whale of a lawyer, talented, an excellent advocate. He could also be outrageous. Off-the-wall. He's a real cowboy."

     Rollie was known as a prodigious drinker with a sense of humor more earthy than satiric. On occasion, acquaintances have recalled, he would break out in an Indian chant during gatherings around town.



     Rollie visiting the grave of Louis Monge, a client who was executed in June 1967 for homicide and buried at Woodpecker Hill where Canon City convicts were buried. 


Rollie sitting in the old gas chamber now at the Old Max museum.

     He started a tradition of honing the courtroom skills of public defenders with a rigorous training program and a heartfelt determination to bring the best in lawyering to the defense of public defender clients. He also carried with him an absolute, implacable hatred and revulsion for the death penalty.

     Despite his general popularity, his tenure as Colorado's Public Defender brought riffles of dissatisfaction from his boss, the Colorado Supreme Court. The friction began only weeks after taking office when he defied the advice of a Supreme Court justice in the hiring of one of his public defenders. His reply, "I decided either I am running the office or they are. If they are running it, they don't need me."

     There were other such occasions throughout his time in office. It manifested itself in February, 1978, when the Supreme Court suspended him alleging that he had mismanaged his office and in addition, used alcoholic beverages in excess, making trips at state expense, and for selecting deputies on the basis of their personal loyalty to him rather than the office.

     When Rollie asked for a review of the charges, the Supreme Court appointed the prosecutor as well as the hearing officer. Rollie's statement, "I couldn't win for losing."

     After some reflection Rollie decided not to attempt a defense and resigned from the position. He returned to private practice handling personal injury and divorce cases until 1987. He retired from practicing law and bought a motel in downtown Canon City. He and his second wife, Shirley, operated the motel until 1993. They sold it but retained residency in Canon City because they liked the community, the hospitable climate, and the proximity to some of his former clients.

Rollie, with his second wife Shirley, displaying one of his many sandstone sculptured Indian scenes at their home in Canon City.

     He served on the Territorial Prison Museum board and made biweekly trips to the prison to pick up crafts made by prison inmates for sale at the museum.

     In December 1997, Rollie was honored at the 25th anniversary celebration of the startup of the public defenders system. At the ceremony, the public defenders' new training courtroom - a full-size replica of a courtroom, complete with a judge's bench, witness stand and jury box - was dubbed the Rollie R. Rogers Courtroom; an appropriate tribute befitting the State of Colorado's first Public Defender.

Rollie passed away November 9, 1998 from complication of surgery. He was cremated and his ashes scattered.

His family held a memorial service November 12 at the Whatley Chapel, University of Denver Law School, Park Hill Campus, Denver, Colorado.

In remembrance and recognition of Rollie’s interest and devotion to the American Indian culture the service was highlighted with American Indian song and dance provided by the Black Tongue and Dakota Singers.


"Behold this pipe which is the one that the four-legged brought to the people; through it we have carried out Thy will. O Wakan-Tanka, You have put Your people upon a sacred path; may they walk upon it with firm and sure steps, hand in hand with their children, and may their children's children, too, walk in this sacred manner!"

"Have mercy, O Wakan-Tanka, on the souls that have roamed the earth and have departed. May these souls be worthy to work upon that great white path which You have established! We are about to light and smoke the sacred pipe, and we know that this offering is very wakan. The smoke that rises will spread throughout the universe, and all beings will rejoice.


        Some of the pictures (photos taken by Kent Meireis) and portions of the text was derived from an article written by Ginny McKibben in the Denver Post's Empire Magazine of the West, the issue dated January 28, 1996.