ELKO – A part of the Elko County justice system for more than a quarter century has passed away.
Elko County public defender Roger Stewart was found dead in his home Monday by Sheriff Aitor Narvaiza, who was called in to watch him.
Stewart was 73 at the time of his death.
Detectives from the Sheriff’s Office conducted a thorough investigation at Stewart’s residence. The initial investigation revealed no suspicious or criminal activity, the office reported.
The official cause of death is still under investigation and will be determined by the Washoe County Medical Examiner’s Office in the coming weeks.
Stewart served as a public defender in Elko County for 27 years. He was scheduled to represent clients in Elko Magistrates Court and Elko District Court this week and next week.
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On Tuesday, colleagues in the legal community reflected on Stewart’s career and his contributions to Elko’s Fourth Judicial Court following the news of his death, offering their condolences and sympathy to his family and friends.
Elko County public defender Matthew Pennell, who worked with Stewart for several years, said his colleague would be “deeply missed.” His impact will always be felt in my office.
He will also be missed by Stewart’s clients, Pennell added.
“When I told one of Roger’s clients today that he had passed away, the client cried and said that Roger had given him his time and respect, a gift few others have ever done,” he said.
Elko District Judge and former public defender Kriston Hill paid tribute to Stewart. “It has been an honor and a pleasure to work with Roger on a daily basis for nearly 10 years.”
“His passing is a huge loss to the legal community,” she added. “Roger will be greatly missed.”
“Mr. Stewart was a fixture in our legal community who dedicated his career to public service and he will be greatly missed,” said Elko County Attorney Tyler Ingram.
“Roger has been an integral part of our community’s justice system for three decades,” said Justice of the Peace Randall Soderquist. “His dedication and expertise in the legal profession will be deeply missed. Roger’s sudden death shocked and saddened the Elko Justice and Municipal Courts.
District Judge Mason Simons said he remembers his first job 17 years ago after moving to Elko and working in the public defender’s office with Stewart, Fred Lee and Fred Leeds. “They’ve been great mentors to me.”
“Over the next few years, he appeared regularly in my courtroom in the magistrates’ court and the district court,” Simons continued. “He was the consummate professional with a calming presence in the courtroom who rarely left and was always ready. He will be sorely missed by my family, me and his colleagues at the Elko County Courthouse.
District Judge Al Kacin recalled meeting Stewart in 1994 when he was a law clerk in Ely and Stewart worked for the Nevada State Public Defender. “I believe Roger became a lawyer in Nevada in 1989,” he said.
“I saw right away that Roger genuinely cared and zealously defended the constitutional rights of those he was appointed to represent,” Kacin continued. “While Roger was a tenacious lawyer, he also discharged his ethical responsibility to the courts and opposing counsel without fail.”
In 1990 Kacin and Stewart moved to Elko and began a professional relationship. “As a judge, I have always enjoyed having Roger in my courtroom. My appreciation stemmed not only from the fact that Roger was one of the deans of the Elko County Public Defense Bar, but he was also an interesting character.
Colleagues remembered Stewart’s love of trivia and his deep knowledge of many subjects. “Roger was always good for a witty joke or an obscure sporting fact,” Hill said.
“Roger’s unique and quirky sense of humor is inimitable and irreplaceable, just like him,” Soderquist said.
“Our courtrooms will never be the same without Mr. Stewart’s outgoing personality, his innate ability to turn any conversation into a trivia game, and his unparalleled charismatic way of weaving accents into his arguments,” Ingram added.
Pennell recalled that Stewart had “an immense intellect and knowledge of the law that was surpassed only by his encyclopedic knowledge of baseball and hockey trivia.”
Kacin described the lawyer as a Renaissance man, who loved British rock band The Who and wore the band’s logo neatly pinned to his signature plaid tie.
Stewart was originally from western Pennsylvania, bringing Elko his love of bridge and the sports of Pittsburgh, Kacin said. “He was a walking encyclopedia of statistics for the Pittsburgh Pirates.”
When he entered the courtroom, Stewart’s arms were filled with legal documents and books, some of which were not on the subject of law, Kacin recalled.
“Roger was a polymath. I was never able to understand the esoteric titles of most of the non-legal books he brought to court. However, I never got tired of trying,” Kacin said.
“Roger was mischievous and fun,” Simons added. “Full of random knowledge and anecdotes he liked to ask others about in the halls of the courthouse, usually obscure baseball trivia.”
Stewart was an uncle, brother, father and grandfather. Pennell said he was “a proud father”, keeping pictures of his children and grandchildren all over his office.
The attorney also kept four car tires stacked in his office when Simons worked with Stewart. “I think they were just part of the set.”
“It makes me sad that Roger never had the chance to retire, spend more time with his loved family on the moon and back, and spend more time doing things that he loved,” Simons added.
Pennell praised Stewart’s commitment to the law throughout his working life “ensuring that the Constitution is preserved and protected by holding government to account, that the voiceless have a voice in our justice system and that those suffering from mental health issues, addictions and trauma are connected with the necessary resources.
Hill agreed. “Roger has dedicated his life to defending the Constitution and protecting the rights of his clients. He had a brilliant legal mind and was one of the most zealous lawyers I have met.
“His legacy will live on because we will continue his fight for justice that he never gave up,” Pennell said.