Many Idaho court watchers figured the former Chief Justice of the Idaho Supreme Court, Roger Burdick, would slow down to smell the roses when he retired at the end of June. It was not to be. On September 25, Burdick played an instrumental role in the arrest of two individuals on a variety of charges in Bingham County.
While traveling on the Interstate near Blackfoot, Burdick called State Police to report that a man in another car had pointed a firearm at him. The news report of the incident did not indicate what might have evoked this aberrant behavior, but that is of little import. An arrest was made and a number of incriminating items were discovered in the gunman’s vehicle--meth, fentanyl, and four firearms. The man, a formerly convicted felon, is facing a long prison term if convicted on these new charges.
This latest episode in Burdick’s life is an interesting twist on a legal career that started as a public defender in several Magic Valley counties, then to election as Jerome County Prosecutor, capped by a remarkable forty years as a judge. He was appointed as Jerome County Magistrate Judge in 1981, as District Judge in 1983, as presiding judge for the Snake River Basin Adjudication (SRBA) in 2001, and as the 53rd Justice of the Idaho Supreme Court in 2003. He was chosen by his peers to serve two 4-year terms as Chief Justice. He distinguished himself by hard work, a keen sense of justice and fair treatment of all who came before him in each position.
I started practicing law in Jerome in 1973 and met Roger when he came to town in 1976 to practice with another Jerome attorney. He was a worthy opponent--prepared, congenial, honest, down-to-earth, a man of his word. He also kept things lively with a robust sense of humor. I moved to Boise in 1982, but kept track of Roger’s ascension through the judicial ranks from that vantage point.
After joining the Supreme Court in 2005 and serving twelve years alongside Roger, I am amazed at the impact he has had on the development of Idaho law, the improvement of the judicial system and the advancement of the rule of law.
Roger’s work in the water arena stands out, both as SRBA judge and as a member of the Supreme Court. His decisions have helped to modernize the protection and administration of this most precious resource.
With many years of service on the Idaho Judicial Council, which evaluates and recommends judges for gubernatorial appointment to the district and appellate courts, Roger was instrumental in placing highly qualified men and women in those key judicial positions. Idaho takes a back seat to no state with its excellent judges.
Roger was a leader in efforts to professionalize Idaho’s public defender system, to improve management of Idaho’s courts, to support problem-solving courts which help criminal defendants get their lives back on track, to dramatically improve Idaho’s guardianship and conservatorship laws, and to inform the public about the workings of the court system.
It was interesting to work with Roger in the extremely important job of dispensing justice to parties in about 135 cases per year--mostly civil disputes, but around 10% of the State’s most important criminal cases. He has a finely honed sense of justice--sensitive to the concerns of each side, but dedicated to come down on the side with the best argument under the law. It is a tough business and I witnessed a number of occasions where Roger ruled against the side that he would prefer to have won. That’s what an excellent jurist must do.
Roger has taken senior status on the Court so he will occasionally participate in cases where another Justice has a conflict. I know he will continue to do a good job there. I only hope he can resist getting involved in any more law enforcement matters where his opponents are armed to the teeth.