"Law is educated Justice."1
Charles A. Rapallo was born on September 15, 1823 in New York City, the son of Anthony Rapallo and Elizabeth Gould.2 The elder Rapallo was a native of Italy who emigrated to New York City early in his life. He was an "eminent" attorney and "superior linguist" who personally directed the education of his son.3 Ms. Gould was the daughter of Revolutionary War hero Benjamin Gould, who fought in the battle of Lexington and served in the first Continental Congress, the sister of Hannah Flagg Gould, the famed Boston poetess, and was an aunt to Chief Justice Melville Fuller of the United States Supreme Court.4
Charles Rapallo never attended school or college, but did receive a classical education from his father, from whom the younger Rapallo learned to speak French, Spanish, and Italian, which he spoke with the same fluency as English. When he was 14 years old, Rapallo's education was sufficiently advanced to permit him to begin the study of law under his father's tutelage.5 Seven years later, Rapallo was admitted to the Bar of the State of New York upon attaining the age of 21.6
In 1845, Rapallo formed a partnership with Joseph Blunt — Blunt & Rapallo7 — a practice that focused on corporate law, including the representation of the Mutual Life Insurance Company in the organization's early years.8 That association ended three years later, when Rapallo formed a new partnership with Horace F. Clark9 — Clark & Rapallo10 — that would last until the retirement of Mr. Clark in 1867.11 This firm, located on Wall Street, attracted a "high class of practice," including notable clients such has Cornelius Vanderbilt.12 During his association with Clark, Rapallo answered his Nation's call during the Civil War by serving in a prosecutorial role as a Special Judge Advocate.13 Upon Mr. Clark's retirement, Rapallo formed a new partnership with James C. Spencer — Rapallo & Spencer — a firm that was involved in the famous litigation regarding the Erie Railroad Company, which Rapallo personally directed.14 During his years in private practice, Rapallo was a founding member of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York15 and, like his father, mentored apprentices, including Henry Wilder Allen16 and William S. Paine,17 in the study of law. Rapallo also appeared in a number of "early and notable cases" before the New York Court of Appeals,18 including Donnelly v. Corbett (7 NY 500 ), People v. Vanderbilt (26 NY 287 ), Hasbrouck v. Hasbrouck (27 NY 182 ), Williams v. Vanderbilt (28 NY 217 ), the Steamboat Josephine case (39 NY 19 ), and Gandolfo v. Appleton (40 NY 533 ).
Although Rapallo had never actively engaged in politics or held any public office, his reputation among the bench and the bar "as one of ablest lawyers in the State"19 led to his 1870 nomination as a Democratic candidate for a seat as an Associate Judge of the Court of Appeals20 after Hamilton W. Robinson declined the nomination in his favor.21 Ever humble, Rapallo "neither sought nor desired the office to which the people called him, but he felt himself bound to obey the summons,"22 and was elected to that high judicial post by a large majority.23
Rapallo was the Democratic nominee for the office of Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals in 1880, but was defeated by Judge Charles F. Folger24 and assumed the role of Senior Associate Judge of the Court of Appeals.25 With Rapallo's 14-year term as an Associate Judge coming to a close in 1884, he was renominated for that position and ultimately was honored with the "remarkable" distinction of "receiv[ing] more popular votes than any man ever elected to office in any one of the United States" at that time.26 Upon ascending the bench, "the judicial faculty of Judge Rapallo was at once brought into prominence"27 and he developed a reputation as "one of the best informed as well as one of the most learned men in the legal profession."28 His writings as a Judge amply support this characterization. In the famous case involving the conviction of Tammany Hall "Boss" William Tweed for public corruption, Judge Rapallo concurred with the Court's decision permitting the defendant to invoke the Great Writ of Habeas Corpus. In his separate writing, Rapallo resisted public pressure to uphold the lengthy prison sentence that had been imposed on Tweed — then considered to be "the arch-scoundrel of New York"29 — explaining:
"It is the province of courts to declare the law as they find it to be, and adjudge cases accordingly; not to change or strain the law to make it fit any particular case. . . . Laws are framed not merely to secure the punishment of those who are justly accused, but to afford a fair trial to all and guard against convictions being obtained through improper means or influences."30
Other notable opinions by Rapallo include Manice v. Manice,31 which involved "almost every question that can arise . . . in relation to the suspension of the power of alienation of real estate";32 Holland v. Alcock, addressing charitable trusts established in wills;33 Spinetti v. Atlas Steamship Co., outlining the scope of a shipper's liability for "barratry of mariners";34 and his dissent in People v. Schuyler, discussing the insanity defense to the crime of murder in the first degree and the scope of the physician-patient privilege.35
Aside from the clarity of his impressive writings, Rapallo's fitness as a jurist was attested to by both his brethren on the bench and his peers in the profession. He was "a born judge"36 and "perhaps the greatest jurist in a company of remarkable men, who will long be remembered for the splendid opinions with which he has enriched the law."37 Judge Charles Andrews, one of the original seven judges elected to serve on the Court of Appeals in 1870, held Rapallo in the highest esteem:
"In the combination of qualities which fit a man to be a judge, Judge Rapallo had few if any superiors. He possessed intellectual gifts of a high order, absolute integrity of purpose, a calm and dispassionate temper, great good sense, a solid judgment, and these, united with adequate learning and power of philosophical analysis, constituted him, as I think, one of the first judges of our time."38
Irving Browne remarked that:
"if the opinions of his surviving brethren on that bench could be taken, no doubt they would unanimously and readily pronounce him the ablest of their number. Such, we are inclined to believe, would also be the opinion of the bar, without in any sense underestimating or failing to appreciate the marked learning and accomplishment of his associates. Judge Rapallo had a great brain, sustained by a herculean body, which enabled him to perform enormous labor; and he had such a calm, unemotional, almost stolid way of looking at legal questions as so many logical propositions to be worked out by unerring revolutions of mental processes, that he was as little liable to bias and as little likely to go wrong as any judge who has lived in our times."39
For his accomplishments as a distinguished jurist of New York's highest Court, Judge Rapallo was awarded an honorary LL.D. by Columbia University in 1887 at its centennial celebration.40 In the Fall of that year, however, Rapallo became seriously ill and was confined to his home when preexisting heart and kidney troubles were exacerbated by a cold he developed while traveling to Albany.41 Although Rapallo's health seemed to improve toward the end of that year, he died quietly and peacefully in the presence of his beloved wife and other family members on December 28, 1887.42 Following a funeral at which his brethren acted as pall bearers, Judge Rapallo was buried at the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.43 In his will, Rapallo bequeathed all of his property to his wife Helen.44 Rapallo's seat on the Court of Appeals was filled by the appointment of John Clinton Gray in January 1888 and his subsequent election to the bench in November of that year.45
Judge Rapallo's contributions to the legal profession and his status as one of the eminent jurists of his time are honored to this day by the Columbian Lawyers Association, First Judicial Department, which presents its annual Rapallo Award to an outstanding judge, attorney, public servant or distinguished citizen. Past recipients include Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court of the United States and Judge Guido Calabresi of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.46
Rapallo was survived by his wife of 35 years, Helen Sumner Rapallo, daughter of prominent Boston attorney Bradford Sumner.47 They had six children — two sons and four daughters — including eldest son Edward Sumner Rapallo, himself a noted New York City attorney in the style of his father.48 Judge Rapallo's living descendants include six great-grandchildren: Julian Rapallo Sloan and Andrew H. Griscom of Chatham, Massachusetts; Edith Rapallo Sloan of Westford, Massachusetts; Joan Ludlow Griscom of Lexington, Massachusetts; Edith Janet Sloan of Millbrook, New York; and Ann Sloan Broadbent of Honolulu, Hawaii.49
This biography appears in The Judges of the New York Court of Appeals: A Biographical History, ed. Hon. Albert M. Rosenblatt (New York: Fordham University Press, 2007). It has not been updated since publication.
Abstracts, Willis S. Paine, 2 Banking L J 338 (Nov. 1889 to May 1890).
Browne, The New York Court of Appeals, Part II, 2 Green Bag 321 (1890).
Chadbourne, The Public Service of the State of New York, at 62.
Chester, Courts and Lawyers of New York, A History: 1609-1925, Vol. II (The American Historical Society, 1925).
Chester, Legal and Judicial History of New York, Vol. I (National Americana Society 1911).
Closing Argument of the Judge Advocate on the Trial of Col. Joachim Maidhof, Nov. 1864, Pamphlet Trials Vol. 50, Association of the Bar of the City of New York.
Columbian Lawyers of the First Department http://www.columbianlawyers.com.
Conkling, The Judiciary (1890).
Death of Judge Rapallo, New York Times, Dec. 29, 1887, at 5.
Dougherty, Constitutional History of the State of New York (2d ed 1915).
Edited Appletons Encyclopedia http://www.famousamericans.net/charlesanthonyrapallo/.
History of the Bench and Bar of New York, Vols. I & II (New York History Co. 1897).
Holland v. Alcock, 108 NY 312 (1886).
In Memoriam, 107 NY 685 (1888).
Judge Rapallo Very Ill, New York Times, Nov. 24, 1887, p 5.
Judge Rapallo's Will, New York Times, Jan. 4, 1888, p 8.
Manice v. Manice, 43 NY 303 (1871).
People ex rel. Tweed v. Liscomb, 60 NY2d 559 (1875).
People v. Schuyler, 106 NY 298 (1887).
Scott, Distinguished American Lawyers, With Their Struggles and Triumphs in the Forum (1891).
Sloan, Julian Rapallo, Chatham, Massachusetts.
Spinetti v. Atlas Steamship Co., 80 NY 71 (1880).
Strong, Landmarks of a Lawyer's Lifetime (Dodd, Mead & Co. 1914).
The Court of Appeals, Harper's Weekly, Oct. 8, 1870, at 653.
The Historical Society of the Courts of the State of New York http://www.courts.state.ny.us/history/.
The National Cyclopedia of American Biography, James T. White & Co. (1904).
There Shall Be A Court of Appeals (Historical Society of the Courts of the State of New York 2002) http://www.courts.state.ny.us/history/elecbook/thereshallbe/cover.htm.
To Be Buried To-morrow, New York Times, Dec. 30, 1887, p 8.
Van Santvoord, Precedents of Pleading in Civil Actions Under the New-York Code of Procedure (W.C. Little & Co. 1858).
Veeder, Legal Masterpieces: Specimens of Argumentation and Exposition by Eminent Lawyers (Keefe-Davidson Co. 1903).
Published Writings Include:
The author has been unable to identify any published books or articles by Judge Rapallo.