Bernard Shandon Rodey (1906-1910)

Bernard Shandon Rodey  (1906-1910)Bernard Shandon Rodey, an Irish-American politician, was the founder of New Mexico's Rodey Law Firm (Rodey, Dickason, Sloan, Akin and Robb, P.A.). His portrait, painted in the 1880s or 1890s, hangs in the Firm's boardroom in Albuquerque.

Judge Rodey was born on March 1, 1856, in County Mayo, on the west coast of Ireland. As a result of the great potato famine that claimed a million Irish lives and forced a million more Irish citizens into exile in 1862, his parents, Patrick and Ellen, emigrated with six-year old Bernard to Sherbrooke, Quebec, where they sought a fresh start as farmers. Judge Rodey attended the public schools in Sherbrooke. Around 1877, he settled in Boston and turned to the study of the law. He was a self-made man. There would be no Harvard degree, nor any other educational credentials for him. He was almost entirely self educated. In 1881, he moved to Albuquerque, then a town with a population of about 5,000, to work as private secretary for the general manager of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad Company, which was building a line between Albuquerque and Needles, California.

He was married to Minnie (Coddington) Rodey, with whom he had three children, Ellen Winifred Rodey, Pierce Coddington Rodey, and Bernard Shandon Rodey, Jr.

Rodey was a skilled stenographer and worked as a court reporter for the second district of New Mexico in 1882. He acquired a comprehensive knowledge of the law by studying after hours. On December 11, 1883, he was admitted to practice before the District Court of Socorro County in the Territory of New Mexico. In 1883, Rodey established one of the oldest law firms in New Mexico, Rodey and Rodey. He took the business that came in the door, including a heavy dose of criminal defense work. Rodey continued to defend underdogs and the underprivileged even after he had risen to prominence. In 1887, less than four years after obtaining his license to practice law in Socorro, he became the Albuquerque town attorney.

At a young age he became active in politics. His political ascent was as rapid as the growth of his legal reputation. In 1888, Judge Rodey was elected to the territorial legislature from Bernalillo County, where he served for a single term. His goal was to secure a university for the town of Albuquerque. He drafted the bill to create the University of New Mexico; his bill detailed the acquisition of funds and land for the institution, which would be located in Albuquerque. Passage of the bill on February 28, 1889, earned Judge Rodey the title of Father of the University and Rodey Hall was named in his honor. Judge Rodey also advocated for and proposed a school of mines in Socorro, a college of agriculture and mechanic arts in Las Cruces, and an insane asylum in Las Vegas. That bill passed on the last day of the session. Judge Rodey then threw himself into the task of championing a bill that would give the territory its first system of public schools. The bill, slightly amended, became law during the next legislative session.  After a short term as legislator, and a brief tenure as a delegate to New Mexico's first constitutional convention in 1890, Judge Rodey re-dedicated himself to the active, private practice of law on corporate, commercial, and probate matters, along with some criminal defense assignments.

In 1900, the Republican Party nominated Judge Rodey as its candidate for Congress and he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He defeated future governor and United States Senator Octaviano Larrazolo in the general election.  In 1902, Judge Rodey won reelection over a different opponent by a wide margin. During his two terms in office, he fiercely advocated for the dream of statehood for New Mexico, Arizona, and Oklahoma. He fought against a consortium of Eastern senators, led by Albert J. Beveridge of Indiana, that was threatened by the admission of Western territories as states.

In 1904, Judge Rodey was defeated at the New Mexico Republican Party Convention.  However, he did not have long to brood over his defeat.  After his terms in Congress, on June 16, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Judge Rodey to a federal judgeship in Puerto Rico, less than eight years after Spain had ceded the island to the United States in the wake of the Spanish-American War.  He replaced Judge Charles F. McKenna, who had resigned before ending his term.

It has been said that Judge Rodey was perhaps the only one to be named the territorial judge of another territory. He spoke beautiful and perfect Spanish, albeit with an Irish lilt, because he had lived for the previous thirty-three years in Albuquerque, and because he had studied at a seminary in Spain. He remained on the federal bench in Puerto Rico from 1906 until the end of the Roosevelt administration in 1910.

Judge Rodey's tenure on the bench was controversial --he became involved in the political dispute that culminated in the adoption of the Olmstead Amendment.  On July 16, 1909, the Olmstead Amendment to the Foraker Act of 1900 became law. This amendment stated that whenever the Puerto Rican legislature adjourned without consensus about appropriations for the support of the government, the sums appropriated from the previous year would be considered appropriate.  The discussions of the bill provoked the first Congressional debate on the island's form of government since 1900. It led some prominent Puerto Rican attorneys to advocate unsuccessfully for the abolition of the federal court in Puerto Rico or to limit its jurisdiction severely.  Despite the advantage of Judge Rodey knowing the language, his impetuous, irascible statements from the bench . . . combined with his impetuous, irascible personality, and poor personal and professional relations, not only caused him problems with the legal and political community, but also frictions with Governor George R. Colton, and with the U.S. Attorney, General George W. Wickersham. After various episodes and numerous complaints to the President of the United States, Judge Rodey served out the rest of his term, having done a more than satisfactory job. The United States Supreme Court never criticized his decisions. The Court had found them to be duly pondered and well founded.

Henry F. Hord and Judge Rodey were the reporters of the Porto Rico Federal Reports published by Lawyers' Cooperative Publishing Company.

On May 19, 1910, Judge Rodey was replaced by Judge John J. Jenkins. President Taft then selected Judge Rodey to serve as the United States Attorney for the Second Division of the Territory of Alaska (1910-1913).  On March 6, 1912, Judge Rodey was appointed special assistant United States Attorney, Western District of Washington, to assist in the prosecution of coal frauds in Alaska, and served until December 16, 1913.

In 1913, Judge Rodey returned to Albuquerque and resumed the private practice of law. He had come home to a New Mexico that was no longer a territory. He died in Albuquerque on March 10, 1927, at the age of 71.  When he died, the University of New Mexico closed for his funeral. Judge Rodey is interred at Fairview Cemetery, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  A handful of structures and institutions remain to commemorate the extraordinary life of Bernard Shandon Rodey:  the Rodey Theater at the University of New Mexico; a village named Rodey, south of Hatch in Dona Ana County.

One of Rodey's eulogists claimed that no member of the New Mexico bar "excelled [Rodey] in persistence and endurance."  He was tenacious to a fault . . . an indefatigable worker.