Sheldon Roodman, 74, legal assistance champion in Chicago

Sheldon Roodman

By Robert A. Cohn, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Sheldon Roodman, a St. Louis native who for 30 years led Chicago’s Legal Assistance Foundation with a team fighting discrimination in housing, employment and public programs, died of prostate cancer Jan. 25, 2016, in Fort Sheridan, Ill. He was 74.

Sheldon Howard Roodman was the son of the late Robert and Dorothy Roodman. He was reared in University City and was a 1959 graduate of University City High School. 

He graduated with honors from the University of Michigan in 1963 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. He then attended Washington University School of Law on a full merit scholarship and  was managing editor of the Washington University Law Quarterly. He was first in his class and graduated with a doctor of law degree in 1966. 

Mr. Roodman began his legal career as a Bigelow Fellow at the University of Chicago Law School, followed by a brief association at a major Chicago law firm.

In 1969, he decided to switch from private practice to public-interest law and started with LAF (formerly the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago). By 1977, was its executive director, a position he held until he retired in 2007.

Under Mr. Roodman’s leadership, LAF developed several programs, including the Legal Center for Immigrants, Children’s Law Project, Home Ownership Preservation Project and the Veterans’ Law Project. LAF grew to about 100 lawyers who were unionized. 

During the 1980s, Mr. Roodman was on the national board of Legal Services Corp., where he fought to maintain funding in the face of proposed budget cuts. 

Two of the most important cases he argued reached the United States Supreme Court (Edelman v. Jordan and Quern v. Jordan) and dealt with the rights of a class of aged, blind and disabled welfare applicants. The Supreme Court decisions clarified the scope and application of the 11th  Amendment to the Constitution.

Mr. Roodman received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the LAF, the Distinguished Service Award from the Chicago Public Interest Law Initiative, and the U.S. Supreme Court John Paul Stevens Award from the Chicago Bar Foundation. He also received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Washington University School of Law and was inducted into the University City High School Hall of Fame.

Mr. Roodman also served on several judicial screening committees for the Illinois Supreme Court. After retirement, he served on the national LAF committee, reviewing LAF applications around the county. 

Stan Roodman, Mr. Roodman’s brother, told the Jewish Light: “Shel’s distinguished career affected many in the legal field, but more so the thousands of poor or disenfranchised people who received legal assistance and their rights they otherwise would not have been able to attain. He was a humble, wise and learned man.”

Survivors include his wife of 49 years, Diane Gale Roodman; a daughter, Stephanie Goodman-Murdock (Jonah) of Chevy Chase, Md.; his brother, Stan Roodman (Roberta Berg) of Santa Rosa, Calif.; a sister, Karen Roodman Kessler (Howard) of Boynton Beach, Fla; a brother-in-law, Michael Gale of Miami; and two grandchildren.