Ldf Loses A Friend And A Great Police Advocate: Bill Rapoport
On Monday, April 2, attorney Bill Rapoport unexpectedly passed away after suffering a heart attack. Bill had been representing police officers in disciplinary and criminal cases for almost 40 years, and was highly respected and loved by all of the staff at the Legal Defense Fund, as well as by other attorneys who had the honor, privilege and pleasure of working with and around him for many of those years. The lawyers who opposed Bill came to recognize him as a tenacious and tireless advocate for his clients, and a formidable lawyer who left no stone unturned when a client of his was accused of misconduct.
Bill grew up in North Virginia. As a young man, he played football, ran track and wrestled. For those friends and colleagues who knew Bill in his later life, it may be hard to imagine a man with such a diminutive stature tackling someone or throwing them to the ground, but that makes more sense when one understands Bill’s competitive urge to succeed at everything he did.
After high school, Bill attended Rollins College in Florida and received a Bachelor of Science degree in 1956. He became interested in skydiving during college, and actually participated in skydiving expositions in competitions for a period of time.
After graduating from college, then working for the Coca-Cola Company as a trademark infringement investigator for many years, Bill got the urge to attend law school. He graduated from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, with a Juris Doctorate degree in 1970. His marriage and his love of the outdoors brought Bill west to the San Francisco Bay Area around 1970. As a young father and a young lawyer, Bill spent as much time as he could with his two children and loved hunting, fishing, skeet shooting, camping and river rafting with his family and friends.
Bill’s first job as a lawyer in Northern California was with the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office, where he spent approximately six years working in the Richmond Branch office prosecuting a variety of misdemeanor and felony cases. After he distinguished himself as a capable and effective trial lawyer, he moved into private practice in 1978, establishing an office in Redwood City and beginning to represent police officers, in addition to doing general criminal defense work on the San Francisco Peninsula.
Following the enactment of the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act in 1977, Bill did not take long to establish himself as one of the most knowledgeable attorneys representing police officers in criminal and administrative investigations, and quickly gained a reputation in the San Francisco Bay Area as a go-to attorney for cops who were accused of misconduct.
For the ensuing four decades, Bill’s stature continued to grow among attorneys and judges, who gained an enormous respect for his style of lawyering and his personality. He became a director for the San Mateo County Bar Association and later its president. While Bill continued to do general criminal defense and occasional civil cases as well, his great love and the bulk of his legal practice was devoted to the representation of police officers who are members of the PORAC Legal Defense Fund. He won the vast majority of cases he handled as a result of immersing himself in the facts and carefully researching the law. (In his later years, the LDF lawyers who worked with and around Bill came to laugh with him and among themselves about his delegation of any legal research and the writing of extensive motions and briefs to co-counsel.) Bill’s clients were always the beneficiaries of his compulsive preparation of comprehensive and compelling opening statements, extensive outlines of direct and cross-examination of witnesses, and closing arguments that made many juries anxious to acquit his clients.
Bill participated in the longest criminal trial in the history of the state of California through his representation of former Oakland Police Officer Jude Siapno in the famed “Riders case” in the city of Oakland. When there were no convictions of his client or the other defendants in the first trial, which lasted two years, Bill defended Officer Siapno in a second trial that lasted a year. There were no convictions in that trial either.
Recently, Bill represented a correctional officer in Santa Clara County who was one of three officers charged with murder. Lawyers who perform work for the Legal Defense Fund who attended portions of the trial were thoroughly impressed by the skill, preparation and advocacy Bill exhibited on behalf of his client.
Two weeks before his death, Bill had participated in an intense preliminary hearing for an Alameda County deputy who was charged with several felonies, following a vehicular pursuit of a suspect into the city of San Francisco. As became so customary with Bill, his defense of his client at the preliminary hearing of the case was careful, thoughtful and effective, and his sudden death was and is a great loss for his client and his co-counsel, who had for many years, along with other LDF attorneys, referred police clients their firm had a conflict of interest with to Bill, confident that they would be well represented.
For those who knew Bill for so many years, his death presents a loss to his current and potential clients. But perhaps a greater loss is his warm and engaging personality, great wit and sense of humor. Although no one knew how he found the time, Bill always had read or learned about funny stories or crazy jokes, some of which could not be repeated in civilized company but were thoroughly enjoyed by those around him. He was the willing recipient of many barbs and jokes himself, which generally centered around his frugal lifestyle — wearing the same suits, shirts and ties for years and driving his ancient but beloved red Volvo for well over 300,000 miles. Bill had a great knowledge and fond love for fine wines and Scotch, which he was more than happy to share with his friends, especially when they were buying. And for the LDF lawyers he came to know and work around for many years, there was admittedly an appreciation of his compulsive approach to running a business, which resulted in a promptness in paying his bills and being paid by his clients that very few lawyers have ever come close to.
The police officers whose lives were touched and made considerably better by Bill Rapoport, the staff at PORAC and the PORAC Legal Defense Fund who had the pleasure of knowing him, and the attorneys who had the distinct privilege and pleasure of working with and around him all know the same thing — there will never be another like Bill Rapoport.