About My Brother Ron Rotunda

June 21st, 2018

Don Rotunda, who was Ron’s twin brother, gave me permission to publish these remarks which he gave at Ron’s memorial in April.

About My Brother Ron Rotunda

Anyone who knows Ron Rotunda professionally knows about his many extraordinary accomplishments — his work for the Senate Watergate Committee; his work for the Ken Starr investigation of President Clinton; that he advised the governments of Cambodia, Moldova, Romania and Ukraine on drafting their first democratic constitutions; that he was a highly distinguished law professor at Chapman University and other places, including universities in Belgium, Venezuela, and Italy.  They also know that he wrote a lot of books, more than 200 of them.  He’s written more books than most people have read.  Wayne LaFave, his colleague at the University of Illinois, once described “reading Ron’s resumé” as “my most ambitious undertaking since ‘War and Peace.’”

Our similar names have led to confusion.  Ronald Rotunda is one of the most cited law professors in the United States.  In a way, so am I.  I am not a lawyer but many of his articles have been attributed erroneously to me.  I unintentionally received credit for some of my brother’s work thanks to people’s haste when they intend to cite him and instead carelessly type a “D” instead of an “R” for the first name of the author.  You can find out more about “my” law citations in an article Wayne LaFave wrote for the Illinois Law Review in 2003.  Just google and you’ll find “Rotunda: Il Professore Prolifico Ma Piccolo” by Wayne R. LaFave.

People say we look alike.  We’re supposed to look alike.  We’re twins.  When people saw us together, they noticed a few differences.  Ron was taller than I am and I am better looking than he was.  He wore a bow tie and I wear a long tie or, as I like to call it, a tie.  He is noted for his colorful bow ties.  He has been on television many times.  One time, many years ago, he was on the Geraldo Rivera program.  It was when the Bush v. Gore issue was before the Supreme Court.  Not only did Ron correctly predict the decision but he also predicted the legal argument the Court would use in its decision.  More interesting to Geraldo and to people who paid close attention to the program is that every time there was a commercial break Ron changed the colorful bow tie he was wearing for something even more outlandish.  It was difficult for Geraldo to keep a straight face.

He had a wicked, dry, great sense of humor.  Ron would send me and others an email that gave a link to a book or an article he just published in what he called “shameless self-promotion.”  If you go to his web page you’re invited to click on a photo of Star Trek’s Mr. Spock.  When you click on that you will see a photo of Ron next to the alien from Vulcan.  Ron thoughtfully identified himself as the one on the left.  At home he had a Star Trek communicator, the sonic screwdriver from Dr. Who and a small statuette of him in a Star Trek uniform made through the wonders of 3-D printing.

In addition to his interest in science fiction, Ron also had a fascination with exotic cars.  When he was at the University of Illinois he drove a vintage Rolls Royce.  He eventually traded that for a contemporary Rolls.  When he drove it into Chicago he would give the parking attendant a larger tip than normal and say “Please take good care of the car.  If the owner found out I was taking his Rolls for a spin he would be furious.”

When he moved to George Mason University in Virginia he drove a Mercedes convertible – a red one, of course.  When he got to California he thought maybe he should get a Bentley or perhaps a Tesla.  When he asked his son about what he thought Mark told him Bentley was the past.  Tesla was the future.  Ron chose the future.  You can’t drive a Tesla without having a vanity plate.  His license plate says “E Musk.”  It used to be our standard practice that when we went someplace that had valet parking I would get out of the car first and yell, “I’ll meet you in the lobby Elon!”

People who know him liked him a lot.  The people who had problems with him are the ones who didn’t know him.  They only knew him from his work.  You can’t work on the Watergate Committee or the Independent Counsel without upsetting some people.  He had his enemies.  That is a strong word to use but I think it applies because he had death threats, some of them serious enough to be investigated by the FBI.  That did not faze him.  He even joked about it.  He said he had a secret weapon to protect him.  I asked what that was? He looked at me straight in the face and said, “I have a body double!”

Not all of his more than 500 articles were about the law.  One of his more interesting ones was written for The Wall Street Journal and titled “The Boston Strangler, the Classroom and Me.”  Albert DeSalvo killed 11 women between 1962 and 1964.  When Ron was an undergraduate at Harvard he volunteered his time to teach rhetoric to inmates, one of whom happened to be DeSalvo.  He wrote that DeSalvo was “the only one of his students who would help me arrange the chairs for class.”  Ron said that he was “relaxed and gregarious” and “looked normal.  What was so abnormal was his mind.”

He spent time at Guantanamo Bay – not as a detainee but as a lawyer for the U.S. military.  I asked him was there anything unusual about the place.  He said he was surprised to find that it has its own Starbucks.  Remember the movie “Paper Chase”?  One of the key elements in the movie was a study book the students used.  The prop in the movie was the real study book that was written by Ron and one of his fellow students Irv Yoskowitz.  In one episode of the TV series “Law & Order: LA” the detective quotes from a law book by Nowak and Rotunda and holds up a copy, not a prop, but the actual book.

Ron was my only brother.  We had no other brothers or sisters.  Once a visitor in my house asked if I had a brother named Morgan.  I said “no” and asked how he came up with that.  He said he saw a book on my shelf by Morgan Rotunda.  I told him the book was by Morgan and Rotunda.

My brother was dedicated to his work, but he also was dedicated to his children, his grandchildren, and his friends and me.  His home is filled with their photos and photos of me.  So is the wallpaper of his computer and cell phone.  I got a copy of his recently published book on John Marshall.  I asked him to autograph it.  He was surprised because I see him every day in his house.  He was surprised but he also was pleased.  I saw Ron every day because about four years ago I moved from Washington, DC to California to be closer to him.  I stayed in his house for a “short time” until I could find my own place.  I am the proverbial house guest who never left.

As brothers we had our disagreements over arguably minor questions such as the future of mankind, the relative merits of red over white wine and whether the British ate turkey or goose on Christmas.  I actually lived in England for five years so you think he would defer to me on that last question but he didn’t.  My brother was born 12 minutes before me.  He always held that over me, but in a good way.

Somewhere in the Bible it says that death comes like a thief in the night.  My brother’s death was that way, sudden and unexpected.  I thought he had another 20 or 25 years to live and would write another 20 or 25 books.  He told me about a new book he was writing when we celebrated our birthday together on February 14.  He was healthy and vigorous then.  He was thinking about making some changes to his Marshall book for the second edition.  He was throwing around ideas for his next article.  None of this will ever be.

I will miss him always.   The last thing he said to me in his hospital bed on March 1 was “You’re a good brother.”  I always will cherish that simple sentence.  The next day I saw him he was sedated and not able to talk to anyone.  He remained that way until his death on March 14, one month after our birthday.  He was a good brother to me, a good father to his children, a good grandfather to his grandchildren, a good friend to all who knew him and a good teacher to his students.  We all will miss him.

I came across a poem by someone I never heard before, Helen Lowrie Marshall.  What she wrote reminded me of my brother:

How long we live is not for us to say;

We may have years ahead – or but a day.

The length of life is not of our control,

But length is not the measure of the soul —

Not length, but width and depth define the span

By which the world takes measure of a man.

It matters not how long before we sleep,

But only how wide is our life – how deep.

On January 25, 2019, the Chapman Law Review will hold a symposium on Ron’s impact on students, colleagues, the academy and legal scholarship.

Chapman also posted a video of the memorial: