Categotry Archives: Law


Roy Torcaso


Categories: Business, Law

Roy Reed Torcaso, a Maryland notary public who left his mark on constitutional law, died on June 9 from complications of prostate cancer. He was 96.
Born in Enumclaw, Wash., Torcaso was the son of a Catholic father and a Protestant mother. Although raised to believe in a god, he became an atheist and remained a nonbeliever his entire adult life. This decision proved to be a hindrance in his future professional endeavors.
Torcaso was in his 30s when he enlisted in the Army. He spent World War II in England and was reactivated for duty during the Korean conflict. Upon his return to the states, Torcaso became a bookkeeper for a construction company in Bethesda, Md. When his boss encouraged him to became a notary public in 1959, he completed the required documentation and went down to the Montgomery County Circuit Court to take the oath of office.
There Torcaso’s application was blocked by a clerk named Clayton Watkins, all because he refused to declare a belief in a god. At the time, Article 37 of Maryland’s constitution stated that “no religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this State, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God.” Since Torcaso refused to do so, Watkins disqualified him as a notary. He responded by taking the state to court.
Over the next two years, Torcaso received legal assistance from the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Jewish Congress, however the Maryland courts ruled against Torcaso, saying his rights were not infringed because no one had forced him to seek a notary public designation. He also became a target of harassment. He received several antagonistic phone calls, one calling him a “dirty Communist,” and another labeling him an “atheistic bum.” One caller even insulted Torcaso’s wife.
The case, Torcaso v. Watkins, eventually worked its way through the appellate courts and landed at the U.S. Supreme Court. In June 1961, the justices unanimously ruled in Torcaso’s favor, saying the Maryland test for public office “cannot be enforced against [Torcaso], because it unconstitutionally invades his freedom of belief and religion guaranteed by the First Amendment and protected by the Fourteenth Amendment from infringement by the States.” Article VI of the U.S. Constitution bars religious tests for federal office. This ruling prohibited the states from using religious faith or a belief in a god as a criteria for assuming a public office.
Two months later, Torcaso received his commission as a notary public. During the oath, he vowed to uphold the laws of the state of Maryland and the federal Constitution, but he did not declare a belief in a deity or a pantheon of gods. His first assignment was to witness his daughter’s application to take an exam for a ham operator’s license.
Torcaso later worked a series of bookkeeping jobs and devoted much of his free time to civil rights. He served as the president of the Washington chapter of the American Humanist Association, and as the Washington-area president of The Hemlock Society, a right-to-die organization. He also became a humanist counselor, which allowed him to officiate at weddings.
Virginia only allows ordained ministers perform marriage services, thus blocking Torcaso — and other nonbelievers — from doing so. In response, he sued the state. Unlike his previous suit, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his case in 1989.
“Roy Torcaso lived a full life and advanced religious and civil rights for all of us. I’m thankful that he had the guts to take a principled stand. I also look forward to the day when lawmakers … realize that it’s time to clear away the last vestiges of bigotry by officially removing those antiquated provisions from their constitutions,” Steve Benen said on his blog, The Carpetbagger Report.


Bernard D. Meltzer

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Categories: Education, Law, Military

bmeltzer.jpgBernard D. Meltzer, a prosecutor who tried Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg International War Trials, died on Jan. 4 of prostate cancer. He was 92.
Meltzer was born in 1914 in Philadelphia to Russian immigrants. He attended Temple University for four semesters before transferring to the University of Chicago. There Meltzer completed his undergraduate studies in 1935 and earned a law degree in 1937. He spent the following year doing a graduate fellowship at Harvard Law School, where he received a master of laws degree.
Meltzer attempted to enlist in the Navy after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, but was unable to do so due to poor eyesight. Two years later, however, he was commissioned as a naval officer and assigned to the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor of the CIA.
Meltzer helped draft the U.N. Charter in 1945, yet he was still in the Navy when he led a team of lawyers in the prosecution of economic associations and crimes of the Nazi regime. His most noted tasks in the Nuremberg trials included interrogating Herman Goering in pretrial proceedings, and presenting the case against Walter Funk, whom Hitler had appointed as Minister of Economics to the Third Reich.
“Of the defendants I met face to face, I found Goering the most interesting and the most diabolical,” Meltzer said in a 1995 interview with the University of Chicago Chronicle.
That interview wouldn’t be the last time Meltzer was asked to recount his experiences at Nuremberg. In a paper written in 2000, Meltzer spoke of some of the difficulties of the Nuremberg trials, citing the challenges of meshing different legal systems. He also described what he saw on later reflection to be the central difficulty of Nuremberg and termed “the unequal application of the law.” Meltzer offered a considered view on how that inequality developed and ended the paper with a sentiment directed at Kosovo, but which has other current reverberations: “Indeed, it may well be that, as was true at Nuremberg, unequal and flawed justice may be preferable to no justice at all.”
After the Nuremberg trials ended, Meltzer joined the faculty of the University of Chicago and specialized in labor law. He helped guide the university’s law school, taught the country’s first class on international organizations and composed writings on legal issues that are still relevant today.

–Gale Walden


Robert Volpe


Categories: Artists, Law

Robert Volpe was the Sherlock Holmes of the art world. The veteran detective was the sole member of the NYPD’s Art Identification Team, the only squad in the entire country dedicated to solving art-related crimes.
Volpe spent 12 years outwitting criminals, discovering forgeries, breaking up stolen art rings and hunting down missing masterpieces. He found artwork pilfered from the New York Public Library and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and recovered two Byzantine ivories worth $1.5 million that were stolen from an Italian museum. The Hungarian government once requested his assistance in locating two Raphaels, and five other paintings, worth a total of $40 million. Volpe not only helped the authorities recover the stolen pieces, but nab the art thief as well.
The Brooklyn native always had an interest in the arts. A painter and sculptor, Volpe was just a teenager when he sold his first paintings to a local art dealer for $250. He studied at the High School of Art and Design in Manhattan, the Parsons School of Design and the Art Students League.
Volpe served with the Army in Vietnam until 1964, then joined the NYC police department. After walking a beat and patrolling the 9th district, he worked undercover for several years investigating organized crime and drug dealing, including the infamous heroin smuggling operation known as the “French Connection.” When he switched to the Art Squad in 1971, the move earned him the nickname “Rembrandt.”
Volpe’s most famous cases were chronicled in the 1974 book, “Art Cop,” by Laurie Adams. His work was also featured in the 2003 memoir, “Framed: Hollywood’s Dealer to the Stars Tells All,” by art dealer Tod Volpe. The pair were not related, but their paths crossed in the 1970s when Robert found a piece of art that was stolen from Tod.
Volpe retired from the police force in 1983, but continued to lecture at museums and universities. He also offered his expertise to law enforcement agencies all over the world, including the FBI training facility in Quantico, Va.
Art and law enforcement apparently ran in the Volpe family. Robert’s wife, Grace, ws an art instructor. And Justin Volpe, the youngest of his three sons, joined the NYPD as a police officer. In 1999, Justin pleaded guilty to sodomizing a handcuffed Haitian immigrant named Abner Louima with a broken broomstick. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Ever dedicated to his family, Robert Volpe drove 1,200 miles each month to visit Justin in the federal lockup in Rochester, Minn.
Volpe died on Nov. 28 of a heart attack at the age of 63. Justin was not allowed to attend his father’s memorial service due to “security reasons.”


Brian Lee Schubert


Categories: Law, Military, Sports

Brian Lee Schubert, a private investigator and veteran BASE jumper, leaped from a bridge to his death on Oct. 21. He was 66.

The Alta Loma, Calif., resident was a former Army paratrooper and a graduate of the FBI Academy. He worked in law enforcement for more than two decades, ending his career as a lieutenant with the Pomona, Calif., police department. After his retirement in 1989, Schubert opened his own private investigation business. He was also an avid fisherman, hunter and skier.

Schubert was in his 20s when he first explored BASE jumping, a sport which involves parachuting off buildings, antennae, spans and earth. In 1966, he and his friend Mike Pelkey became the first people to jump from El Capitan, the largest monolith in America. Fierce winds near the 3,000-foot-high rock formation in Yosemite National Park caused Pelkey to accidentally fracture his ankle. Schubert collapsed his parachute early and broke all of the bones in his feet — and several other bones as well — upon landing. He did not BASE jump again for 40 years.

Last Saturday, thousands of people watched Schubert jump from the New River Gorge Bridge during the annual Bridge Day festival in Fayetteville, W. Va. According to witnesses, Schubert’s parachute opened about 25 feet from the ground, too late to stop his fall. He hit the New River, 876 feet below the bridge, and died on impact.

Nearly 400 jumpers from 13 countries performed 804 jumps at Bridge Day this year. Schubert’s death was the first time a fatality had marred the event since 1987, and the third since the festival started in 1980.
World BASE Fatality List


Steve Medley


Categories: Law, Writers/Editors

Steven P. Medley, an author and naturalist who devoted his life to promoting Yosemite National Park, died on Oct. 5 in a car accident. He was 57.
The Palo Alto, Calif., native earned a bachelor’s degree in film and broadcasting from Stanford University in 1971. That summer, he started working at Yosemite as a park ranger. During subsequent summers, Medley collected camping fees and helped run the park’s library and museum. He even met his future wife, Jane, at Yosemite; the couple wed in 1976.
Medley received a master’s degree in library science from the University of Oregon in 1975, and a law degree from the Martin Luther King, Jr., School of Law at the University of California, Davis six years later. He was a practicing attorney for four years in Oregon, but working at the park was his true passion. So he stepped off the legal path and became the director of the Yosemite Association in 1985.
From that point on, Medley devoted himself to Yosemite — its visitors and its inhabitants. For 21 years, he served as the president of the Yosemite Association, a non-profit organization of 11,000 members that supports the National Park Service. In this capacity, he guided the public on nature walks, pointed out the local flora and fauna and edited/produced more than 50 publications about the park. His guidebook, “The Complete Guidebook to Yosemite,” sold nearly 100,000 copies.
“This is a huge loss for the Yosemite family. In addition to Steve’s innumerable contributions to the park, he was known for his quick wit, dedication and sense of accomplishment,” Yosemite National Park Superintendent Michael Tollefson said.
Affectionately known as “Smedley,” he liked to complete crossword puzzles in his spare time and hike through the park with his three sons. He was also the president of the Rotary Club of Yosemite National Park.
Medley was driving his 1998 Honda Accord eastbound on Highway 140 in Mariposa County, en route to a Rotary Club meeting, when his car crashed into a tree. The California Highway Patrol said wet, oily road conditions and excessive speed contributed to the crash. No one else was injured and Medley was pronounced dead at the scene. A memorial service is scheduled for Nov. 4. The Yosemite Association plans to produce a small booklet that celebrates Medley’s life to distribute at the event.

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