Judge who led RI Superior Court for 18 years dies

South County

Retired Superior Court Presiding Justice Joseph Rodgers. (Photo Courtesy: Rhode Island Judiciary)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Joseph F. Rodgers Jr., the presiding justice of the Rhode Island Superior Court for nearly two decades, has died.

Rodgers passed away at his home in Wakefield Friday morning, the Rhode Island Judiciary said. He was 78.

Rodgers served as a judge in Rhode Island courts for 35 years. Gov. Philip Noel first appointed Rodgers to the District Court bench in 1974. Rodgers was 32 at the time, making him the youngest statewide judge in modern Rhode Island history.

Rodgers joined the Superior Court as an associate justice in 1976. Gov. Bruce Sundlun appointed him presiding justice, the Superior Court’s chief judge, in 1991.

Rodgers led the Superior Court for 18 years. During that time, he made several significant changes. He reduced jury duty service to make it more convenient for people, cutting it from two weeks to two days or one trial. He created special court calendars for drug and business cases along with the nation’s first calendar for gun cases.

Rodgers also instituted a “Settlement Week,” where volunteer lawyers helped resolve civil disputes.

Rodgers retired as presiding justice in 2009 but continued to serve the court as a retired justice. His daughter, Kristen E. Rodgers, currently serves as a Superior Court associate justice.

Prior to his time on the bench, Rodgers served as a Rhode Island state senator from 1967 to 1974.

Jurists and lawmakers remembered Rodgers Friday as wise and generous.

Senator Jack Reed called Rodgers “a model public servant who never forgot his roots.”

“There was no better judge,” Current Superior Court Presiding Justice Alice Gibney said. “There was no better friend.”

“I was honored to know him and to see firsthand the fairness and compassion with which he served,” Congressman David Cicilline said. “His influence on our state and the dignity of his example will be deeply missed.”

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