Published On: Sat, Oct 27th, 2018

Agent of Change: Revered Retired Judge Edward Rodgers dead at 90

WEST PALM BEACH; 5/28/97: Judge Edward Rodgers (cq) (Ret.) in the law library in the State Attorney’s Office. Staff Photo by Lannis Waters 

Retired Palm Beach County Circuit Judge, who was the county’s first black prosecutor, black judge and developer of the county’s specialty courts for those with addiction issues, has died at the age of 90.

Mandatory retirement forced the trailblazer to step down in 1995 after 22 years on the bench.

But instead of relaxing, he quickly got immersed in his community. He served as a council member and mayor on the Riviera Beach City Council and as the first chair of the county’s ethics commission.

Judge Rodgers had an insightful vision for our treatment courts. He understood to end the cycle of recidivism, the criminal justice system had to change. He was that agent of change and in 1991; he formed the first Drug Court in Riviera Beach.  He later replicated it in Delray Beach and West Palm Beach.

That specialty court program has changed and saved countless lives through tough love and compassion.

I first met Judge Rodgers in the late 1980s, when he was one of a handful of black judges on the bench; I was a news reporter for one of our local dailies. The late Justice Marvin Mounts, who was instrumental in the founding of KOP Mentoring Network, introduced us after he saw our “some shared synergy”.

Judge Rodgers, who also was my fraternity brother, was always ready to offer sage advice.

He served as the chief judge in the early years of KOPMN’s annual Black History Brain Bowl competition, a jeopardy-style competition, which quizzed students in the tri-county area on African American history.

At the inception of KOPMN, he was among three men who met at the old Delray Beach Fire Department on the third Saturday mornings each month to speak some sense to a group of rambunctious boys.

Whenever I ran into him in the courthouse of or gatherings, he would give me his trademark

 

When I was president of one of the Rotary Clubs in Delray Beach, he once cautioned me of the importance to “create some balance in” my life. (I was wearing a few hats simultaneously – reporter, active mentor, active fraternity member, active masonic lodge member, and naval reservist).

“You have to make sure you are fit and charged to be able to do for others, young brother,” he cautioned me. “We need you to be here to help save these young boys from the streets, a rehab center or the grave.”  

The Pittsburgh native served the country bravely in uniform as a corpsman in the Navy Hospital Corps during World War II and later attended Howard University in Washington, D.C.

It was there he met his future bride, Gwendolyn Baker, of West Palm Beach. The newlyweds made Palm Beach County their new home in 1950.

Judge often shared stories of how he sold insurance for the Afro-American Life Insurance Company, the only company that served blacks then. He also worked as a shop teacher and a guidance counselor at the newly opened black Roosevelt High School.

Angst by the low pay teachers were receiving and the injustices he witnessed firsthand, he applied to law school.

The University of Miami’s law school accepted him but rescinded the offer after learning of his pigmentation, he often shared.

He was however accepted at Florida A&M University law school in 1960, from where he graduated top of his class of six.

The fierce young lawyer took on some establishments, among them the West Palm Beach Police Department, Good Samaritan Hospital and then the Children’s Home of Juvenile Court, today called Children’s Home Society. He fought to desegregate the hospital and Children’s Home Society.

In 1964, then State Attorney Mounts appointed Judge Rodgers the county’s first black prosecutor and, in 1973, Gov. Reubin Askew appointed him to the bench.

Several of his former colleagues, including some whom he mentored, said they will long remember him for his sharp legal mind, independence and integrity.

I am profoundly saddened but will always be so proud to have had not only a fraternity brother and friend beyond compare, but a man of honor and service to so many in this county.

Rest in peace, my brother.

  1. Ron Allen can be reached at crallen@Delraybeachtribune.com or 561-665-0151.

 

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