• AG23_FoleyRogerDRoger D. Foley - Nevada Historical Society

Roger Drummond Foley - Democrat, Elected

23rd Nevada Attorney General
Term:  January 5, 1959 -
July 15, 1962 [Resigned]

The Nevada Attorney General’s Office extends a very special thank you to Mary Lou Foley, the daughter of former Nevada Attorney General Roger D. Foley, for providing additional details about her father.

Biography

Roger Drummond Foley, born on April 28, 1917, in Goldfield, Nevada, was the eldest of five sons of Federal District Court Judge Roger Thomas Foley and Helen Drummond Foley.  A fire in 1922 destroyed 37 blocks of the town and most of Goldfield’s businesses.  With the loss of economic opportunity, the Foleys moved to Las Vegas in 1928.

Initially, Roger D. Foley studied for the priesthood but decided to follow his father and become a lawyer.  Foley received his law degree from the University of San Francisco Law School.

During World War II, Foley flew over 50 combat missions as a first lieutenant bombardier and navigator in the United States Army Air Corps.

Foley spent his life in public service, contributing much to the legal and political history of Nevada.  From 1948-1951, he served as Deputy District Attorney in Clark County, Nevada.  Elected as District Attorney for Clark County in 1951, he served a four-year term and then practiced law with his brothers in Las Vegas.  On November 4, 1958, the voters elected Foley as Nevada’s 23rd Attorney General.

It was during his time as Nevada Attorney General that the attorney general’s office rose in stature . . . .  Nevada had been a relatively small state, and the Attorney General had not done a great deal other than render opinions . . . .  The office became a very pro-active office . . . when Judge Foley was the Attorney General of Nevada . . . there was a question as to whether . . . the Gaming Commission would be able to enforce the Civil Rights Law . . . .  He rendered an opinion . . . [which] said, in essence, that ‘yes’ they have the obligation to enforce these laws . . . .  For him to render an opinion of that sort, at that particular time and period, indicated to many of us that his concern for fairness and justice overrode any concern of his political consideration of being in office.”[1]

On June 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy nominated Foley to the federal United States District Court, District of Nevada (a new federal judicial seat created by Congress).  The United States Senate confirmed Foley’s nomination on June 29, 1962, and he received his judicial commission on July 2, 1962.  Federal District Judge Roger T. Foley, who had been named a federal judge by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and whose commission was signed by President Harry S. Truman, swore Roger D. Foley, his son, into office.  On July 15, 1962, Roger D. Foley resigned his position as Attorney General.  Roger D. Foley served as federal chief judge from 1963 to 1980; he assumed federal senior judge status on October 29, 1982.

Famous cases during Foley’s tenure as U.S. District Judge included Baneberry, wherein he opened up the federal government to challenges from two widows of Nevada Test Site workers, victims of radiation exposure.  This case set precedence that it no longer was automatic that government agencies could evade scrutiny of their actions simply by invoking “discretionary function.”  The Baneberry case was “one of a triumvirate of cases that resulted in Congress apologizing and enacting the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, whereby a $200 million fund was created to compensate cancer victims”.  In another case, Foley protected the Ash Meadows Desert Pupfish (a minnow-like species found only in a single desert spring not much bigger than a bathtub) from developers.  In 1980, Foley startled organized-crime prosecutors by accusing them of “arrogance, misconduct and trying to mislead a grand jury in an investigation of the gambling industry”.  In 1983, Foley declared he would stop hearing criminal cases altogether because “he objected to the way the prosecutors pursued petty cases like food-stamp offenses.”[2]

Foley resigned from the bench in 1993 for health reasons, and on January 7, 1996, he died at his home in Las Vegas, Nevada.  At the time of his death, Foley was survived by his wife, Anne; two daughters, Mary Lou Foley and Judy Van Cleve; a son, Mark; three brothers, George, Joseph, and John; and four grandchildren, all of Las Vegas.

On April 7, 1997, the following Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 25 appeared in the Senate Daily Journal:

MOTIONS, RESOLUTIONS AND NOTICES  

By Senators Raggio, Titus, Adler, Augustine, Coffin, Jacobsen, James, Mathews, McGinness, Neal, O'Connell, O'Donnell, Porter, Rawson, Regan, Rhoads, Schneider, Shaffer, Townsend, Washington and Wiener:

Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 25—Memorializing United States District Judge Roger D. Foley.

Whereas, The members of the 69th session of the Nevada Legislature were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of United States District Judge Roger D. Foley on January 7, 1996; and
Whereas, Roger D. Foley was a native Nevadan, born on April 28, 1917, in Goldfield, Nevada, and moved to Las Vegas in 1928; and
Whereas, Roger Foley graduated from the University of San Francisco Law School and flew over 50 combat missions in World War II as a first lieutenant bombardier and navigator in the United States Army Air Corps; and
Whereas, In his extraordinary career, Roger Foley served as Clark County District Attorney and Attorney General of the State of Nevada before his appointment to the United States District Court by President John F. Kennedy in 1962; and
Whereas, The University of Nevada, Las Vegas, recognized the outstanding merits of Judge Foley's work by honoring him in 1988 as a "Distinguished Nevadan"; and
Whereas, Judge Foley was widely known to his colleagues and the residents of Nevada as a man of compassion, intellect and integrity; and
Whereas, Judge Foley is survived by his wife, Anne Foley; daughters, Mary Lou Foley and Judy VanCleve; son, Mark Foley; brothers, George, Joseph and John; and four grandchildren;

now, therefore, be it
Resolved by the Senate of the State of Nevada, the Assembly Concurring, That the Nevada Legislature extends its heartfelt sympathy to the family of Judge Foley; and be it further
Resolved, That Nevadans will long remember Judge Foley both for his many years of public service to the State of Nevada and the thoughtful and valuable contributions he offered the State of Nevada throughout his life; and be it further
Resolved, That the Secretary of the Senate prepare and transmit a copy of this resolution to Judge Foley's widow, Anne Foley.

Senator Raggio moved the adoption of the resolution.   Remarks by Senators Raggio, Titus, Neal, Adler and Townsend.  Senator Raggio requested that the following remarks be entered in the Journal.

Senator Raggio:
Thank you, Mr. President.  It is certainly fitting that we pause for a few moments today to honor a very distinguished Nevadan.  As we do so, I might say that we honor a very distinguished family as well.  The Foley family has deep roots in the State of Nevada and, over the years, has made a major contribution to the history of the state as a whole.  Today, the resolution before us memorializes former United States District Judge Roger D. Foley.  Roger D. Foley filled some big footsteps of one who preceded him.  I had the pleasure of knowing Judge Roger D. Foley, but I also knew Senior Judge Roger T. Foley.  I had the pleasure of practicing law before both of those judges, and I also knew Judge Roger D. Foley when he was attorney general of this state.
The resolution is rather short and is certainly inadequate in doing justice to the career of a justice such as Roger D. Foley.  Roger was a unique individual.  Most of them were born in Nevada with the exception of John Foley who is with me on the floor.  He was born in California.  Roger D. Foley was a native Nevadan, born in the metropolis of Goldfield in 1917.  Goldfield may not have been very active at that time, but this person went on to be extremely active.  He graduated from the University of San Francisco Law School, a very significant law school and one from which many of our present day lawmakers graduated.
He flew over 50 combat missions during World War II as a first lieutenant bombardier and navigator in the United States Army Air Corps.  That was a significant contribution in itself.  Certainly, had that been all he ever did, it would have been a major and dedicated accomplishment.
After graduation from law school, he practiced law with his brothers for a time after which he was elected to the office of Attorney General of the State of Nevada.  During that period of time, the attorney general's office rose in stature.  Where Nevada had been a relatively small state, the office of attorney general had not done a great deal other than render opinions.  The office became a very pro-active office.  Roger D. Foley became a very active and impressive attorney general.
In 1962, he was appointed as the United States District Judge by the late president, John F. Kennedy.  Although part of the reason for this may have been that they were both Irish and Democrats, it was also because Roger was recognized as a very preeminent attorney and a representative of the Bar.  He served with distinction until his death, first as a regular-appointed U.S. district judge and then went on senior status.  I believe I am correct in saying that he was 78 years of age at the time of his death.  Even though he had been in ill health over a number of years, Roger Foley still insisted on carrying a full caseload.
The resolution speaks about compassion, intellect and integrity. Those are words I selected for this resolution, but they are certainly not entirely my own.  That is how people viewed him; how those who came before him viewed him and how those who practiced before him viewed him.  He carried on a tradition, as a jurist, passed on from his father.  He carried on a tradition of dedication to the administration of justice, represented both by his own efforts and those of his very distinguished family members.  The Foley family members all became lawyers and certainly are well recognized today.  The Federal Building in Las Vegas is named after the Foley family.
I think it is appropriate today that we pause and recognize his great effort as a builder of the state, as a builder of our judicial system and as one who was dedicated to the firm principles on which our country was created and carries forth.  Today, we honor the memory of former United States District Judge Roger D. Foley.

Senator Titus:
Thank you, Mr. President.  I, too, stand in support of this resolution even though I do not like it very much. I think it is too miserly both in terms of the facts it presents and in the compliments it offers.  For example, this resolution does not mention the role that Judge Foley has played as mentor to at least half of the lawyers and judges currently practicing in this state. Also, it does not mention his strong love for and charity towards the Catholic Church and his long friendship with Bishop Mark Hurley.
Finally, it does not mention something which is very important to me—two landmark decisions that he delivered in the course of his long and prestigious career.  These two decisions not only affect the history of Nevada, but also national history as well.  One of those decisions was the Banebury case which was a case involving atomic testing at the Nevada test site.  The other was a case involving saving the pup fish, a case all environmentalists cite.

I first met Judge Foley through his daughter Mary Lou who was a student of mine when I first came to teach at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.  Mary Lou and I became very good friends at that time and will be dear friends forever.  She introduced me to her father.  As I was doing research on atomic testing, he was wonderful, explaining to me and being very patient with a non-lawyer concerning all the nuances and the technicalities of the Banebury case.  I will certainly never forget that.
Perhaps he is best remembered by using some of his own words. Back in 1988, the late Senator Nick Horn was teaching a class at the community college in Las Vegas.  He had his students write letters to public figures and ask them "to what they attributed their success and what advice they could give to young people."  This is actually Judge Foley's reply to a young woman who wrote to him:

You have asked me about what it takes to be successful.  Success and living a life of usefulness and helpfulness to others, especially those less fortunate than ourselves, is far more important than making money or in achieving prestige and power.  When we seek to acquire money and power to fulfill our own selfish and self-centered desires, we do not justify our existence on earth. When we strive to be useful and helpful to others, the world will be a little better place for our having lived.

Certainly, the world is a better place for having hosted Judge Foley. Thank you.

Senator Neal:
Thank you, Mr. President.  I rise in support of this resolution and I share in many of the comments which have been made by Judge Foley.  But, I go back a ways to the time when I first had contact with the Foley name and the Foley family many, many years ago.  I watched that entire family evolve and develop.  It always was around a sense of fairness and justice.  I can recall, many years ago, when Judge Foley was the Attorney General of Nevada that there was a question as to whether or not the Gaming Commission would be able to enforce the Civil Rights Law.  Somehow, as attorney general, the question came before him.  He rendered an opinion. His opinion said, in essence, that "yes" they did have the obligation to enforce these laws.  This was at a time, during the early 1960s, when there were demonstrations throughout the South.  This state was mostly segregated.  For him to render an opinion of that sort, at that particular time and period, indicated to many of us that his concern for fairness and justice overrode any concern of his political consideration of being in office.  We felt that was great.  Later, in the 1960s, when he became U. S. District Judge, I was instrumental in getting two cases before him.  One dealt with whether or not the labor unions would be integrated.  His decision, in that particular case, was a very heartening one for me because he ruled that these unions should be integrated.  As a result, building trades today are very much integrated in the South and have a goodly number of minorities, in particular Blacks, who now have risen to positions whereby they can influence future elections within their organizations.
Even though, at that period of my life, I was on the other side of the union question.  Those of you who now see me in this body, know that I now fight for unions.  It was a result of that decision that I moved over to the other side and became a union supporter.
Another case I can remember with great distinction was one that involved the integration of the hotels in the Las Vegas area.  The decision he rendered on that issue was a very profound one.  He said unequivocally that the hotels should be integrated; and that their management staff should have no less than 12 percent Blacks. For a judge to render such a strong opinion, indicated his sense of fairness and justice in dealing with situations affecting Nevada and the entire country.
I always appreciated his service as a judge, as the attorney general, and you could always count on him to make the right decision when you had a case come before him.  He made a great contribution to this state in terms of its social activities and in bringing about fairness and justice.  I hope that those who follow in his footsteps, on the bench, recognize his service, his duty, his integrity and his honesty to do right for people who appeared before him.  He had a strong sense of justice and a strong sense of protecting the underdog against the big interests of this state and nation as he saw it.  I would remember him for this and for the great service he rendered to this state.

Senator Adler:
Thank you, Mr. President. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Judge Foley and actually having some cases heard in his court when I was first practicing as an attorney.  Everyone else has described his great intellectual ability, as a judge, so I am not going to repeat what has already been said. I do have one interesting story to relate where, in one of my cases, there was a key witness on the other side who was a minister, a man of the cloth.  He was certain that my client had done what he was accused of, but I was equally certain he had not because of the surrounding circumstances.  I wondered how I was going to get around this problem with Judge Foley.  I still remember the decision he made from the bench when he said that "although a man of the cloth would never lie, he could certainly be as mistaken as all of the rest of us."  I thought this was a very clever decision since I was worried as to how he was going to get around that eyewitness.  He was a very clever man, an intellectual man and a very kind man in many respects.  I know he will be missed by all of us.

Senator Townsend:
Thank you, Mr. President. I hope that we have opportunities to salute families like the Foleys in the future.  I know we are not going to have the opportunity to address a family who, as of January 1, 1997, had someone in public service for 91 straight years.  That is something which needs to be in the record.  I think there are less opportunities for that happening now, but here is a family that has had that in their blood.  They have passed that on from generation to generation.  It is something all of us should look to and try to pass on that kind of sense of duty to the members of our own families.  The Foley family has shown sense of public duty as something to be respectful to the public.

Senator Titus:
Thank you, Mr. President. I would like to remind everyone that Judge Foley left his letters and his papers to the library at UNLV. Those are all available to the public.  It is a wealth of information on legal history and political history which is available to students and to the public. I would invite anyone to take advantage of those.
Resolution adopted.

Senator Raggio moved that Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 25 be immediately transmitted to the Assembly.
Motion carried.

The Foley Federal Building and United States Courthouse in Las Vegas is named for Roger D. Foley and his father, Roger T. Foley because of their prominence in law and in Las Vegas.[3]  Roger D. Foley’s daughter, Mary Lou Foley, indicated that the Foley Building is the only federal building named for a “family”, which includes District Court Judge Roger Thomas Foley, his son, District Court Judge Roger D. Foley, several Nevada district attorneys, and attorneys general.[4]

Election of 1958

Elected Nevada’s 23rd Attorney General on November 4, 1958, Foley (Democrat) received 54,537 (68.5%) of the 79,661 votes cast, and Cameron Batjer (Republican) received 25,124 (31.5%).

Office Administration and Duties

Foley’s bi-annual reports for July 1, 1958–June 30, 1962, reported 25 staff which included Chief Deputy Attorneys General, Chief Assistant Deputy Attorneys General, Deputy Attorneys General, Legal Stenographers, Researchers, and Legal Secretaries.  Foley also reported that, in addition to his regular office staff, he employed private practice attorneys as Special Deputy Attorney Generals to represent various Nevada state agencies, boards, and commissions, and to litigate several cases.

Foley’s operating budgets for the 1959–1960, 1960–1961, and 1961–1962 state bi-annual fiscal periods included:

July 1, 1959–June 30, 1960

 

1959–1960 Budget

$160,334

 

 

$60,334

For the support of the Office of the Attorney General. Attorney General’s salary of $8,400 is included in this appropriation.  The Attorney General, in his capacity as ex officio Director of the Department of Highways, also received an annual salary of $6,500. 

 

 

 

 

$100,000

Funding to the Attorney General to defend tax suits against the State of Nevada by the Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad, Union Pacific Railroad, and the Oregon Short Line Railroad.

 

July 1, 1960–June 30, 1961

1960–1961 Budget

$88,170

 

$78,170

For the support of the Office of the Attorney General.  Attorney General’s salary of $8,400 is included in this appropriation.  The Attorney General, in his capacity as ex officio Director of the Department of Highways, also received an annual salary of $6,500.

 

$10,000

For the Special Account of the Attorney General

July 1, 1961–June 30, 1962

 

1961–1962 Budget

$90,754

For the support of the Office of the Attorney General.  Attorney General’s salary of $8,400 is included in this appropriation.

 

 

$10,000

For the Special Account of the Attorney General[5]  

 

 

$40,000

   Colorado River Intervention Action

 

             

Although the 1958 Special Session of the State Legislature did not add any additional duties for the Attorney General, the 1959 State Legislature added the following duties to the Attorney General’s job:

  • The Attorney General is relieved of his duties as ex officio Mineral Lands Commissioner because of the abolishment of the Mineral Land Commissioner Office.   (Statutes of Nevada 1959, Chapter 268, Page 338).
  • The Attorney General will provide legal opinions about Nevada state statutes (only) to City Attorneys.  (Statutes of Nevada 1959, Chapter 423, Page 692).
  • The Attorney General will be the legal advisor to the Nevada Gaming Control Board and Nevada Gaming Commission (Statutes of Nevada, Chapter 318, Section 17, Page 432).
  • The Attorney General will review all land sales by the Nevada Colorado River Commission.  (Statutes of Nevada 1959, Chapter 429, Page 699).
  • The Attorney General will provide legal advice to the Nevada Colorado River Commission.  (Statutes of Nevada 1959, Chapter 124, Page 699).
  • The Attorney General is relieved of the duty to prosecute violations of practitioners of Chiropody (the branch of medicine concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the foot).  (Statutes of Nevada 1959, Chapter 162, Page 183).
  • The Attorney General will review and approve all contracts for the building of various classrooms and buildings on the University of Nevada, Southern Branch (current University of Nevada, Las Vegas).  (Statutes of Nevada, Chapter 400, Section 3, Page 613).
  • The Attorney General will review and approve contracts to improve the grounds of Nevada State Capital Buildings.  (Statutes of Nevada 1959, Chapter 447, Section 5, Page 780).
  • The Attorney General will review and approve all contracts for the building of various classrooms and buildings on the University of Nevada, Reno, Nevada.  (Statutes of Nevada 1959, Chapter 453, Page 784).
  • The Attorney General will review and approve all contracts for the building, remodeling, and renovation of various state buildings.  (Statutes of Nevada 1959, Chapter 485, Page 790).
  • The Attorney General will review and approve all contracts for the building of various classrooms and buildings on the University of Nevada, Reno, Nevada.  (Statutes of Nevada 1959, Chapter 479, Page 855).
 

The 1960 Nevada State Legislature amended the duty of the Nevada Attorney General to appear in all courts cases that involved the rights of the State of Nevada concerning the water in streams and other public lands.  (Statues of Nevada 1960, Chapter 108, Page 125), and added these additional duties:

  • The Attorney General will review all purchases of federal land by the Colorado River Commission.  (Statutes of Nevada 1960, Chapter 129, Page 158).
  • The Attorney General will cooperate with the enforcement authority of the Nevada Cancer Advisory Council.  (Statutes of Nevada, Chapter 58, Section 20, Page 65).
  • The Attorney General will “. . . bring an action to quiet title to such lands or take such other steps as may be necessary to obtain clear title to such lands in the name of the State of Nevada . . . .”  This pertained to land purchases in 1956 by the State of Nevada for use by the Nevada State Prison.  (Statutes of Nevada, Chapter 180, Section 2, Page 338).
 

The 1961 Nevada State Legislature added the following duties the Attorney General’s job:

  • The Nevada State Children’s Home will inform the Nevada Attorney General when assistance for the collection of reimbursements for public assistance contributions, support payments, etc. is required.  (Statutes of Nevada 1961, Chapter 81, Page 90).
  • The 1962 General Obligation Bond Commission will be created with the Governor, Secretary of State, and Attorney General as members.  This Commission will issue (i) bonds for the construction of a minimum state prison in Ormsby (now Carson City) and Douglas Counties (Statutes of Nevada 1961, Chapter 357, Page 720) and (ii) bonds for the construction of buildings at the University of Nevada.  (Statutes of Nevada 1961, Chapter 358, Page 724).
 

[3] Sturman, Gloria J.  The Foley Family:  Four Generations of Service.  The Nevada Bar, January 1, 2003.

[4] Id.

[5] This appropriation was made to the Attorney General’s Office “. . . to enable the Attorney General to complete an investigation and inquiry into possible violations of law and unethical conduct and practices regarding placement and adoption of children and to enable the Attorney general to publish and disseminate a written report therein . . .”.  (Statutes of Nevada 1961, Chapter 17, Page 15).

    Page Last Updated:9/13/2017