Remembering Professor Ronald Rotunda

New Zealand Actress and Comedian Stephanie Paul with Chapman University Prof. Ronald Rotunda at a Ted Talk Orange Coast. Photo by:

After a short hospital stay, Professor Ronald Rotunda of Dale E. Fowler School of Law, passed away March 14, battling complications from pneumonia. He was 73.

Rotunda joined Chapman’s faculty in 2008, bringing four decades of experience in Constitutional law and professional responsibility. He previously taught at the University of Illinois and George Mason University, holding honorary positions in both law schools.

Outside of academia, Rotunda served as a legal advisor in Washington, D.C., working with prosecutors during the Watergate and Clinton-Lewinsky scandals.

From 2009 until this year, Rotunda was consistently named among the top lawyers in Southern California by the Best Law Firms magazine. He was recognized for his excellence in ethics and professional responsibility.

Rotunda’s classes recognized and appreciated his prestige in the law community, according to Chapman law student Connor Traut.

“Just weeks ago, our class was laughing at his constant dry humor throughout his lectures. We knew we were in the presence of one of the greatest legal minds in ethics, and we all respected and admired learning from the history that he has been a part of making,” Traut said.

Professor Ronald Rotunda. Photo by:

Traut last saw Rotunda Feb. 19 in his once-a-week professional responsibility course. After the law school’s spring break, the class was scheduled to meet again March 5, but was canceled due to Rotunda’s announced illness. The following week, Rotunda was still out and Professor Anthony Caso filled in for him. Law students then learned, along with the rest of the Chapman community, of his passing March 14 in an email from Provost Glenn Pfeiffer.

“Professor Rotunda was also a constant presence within Kennedy Hall, arriving early in the morning nearly every day and working late in the day. He had an intelligence and humor that endeared him to so many of us,” Pfeiffer wrote.

Those who worked alongside him agreed.

“He was a colleague in the true sense of the word,” Professor Bobby Dexter said. “Just a few weeks ago, I found a section of the Wall Street Journal concerning the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in my mailbox. Ron had placed it there, knowing that I teach and write in the tax arena. It was a simple act of genuine kindness, and I found the gesture heartwarming.”

In a blog post, Professor Denis Binder shared another side of Rotunda’s personality.

“Not everyone understood or appreciated Professor Rotunda. He could be prickly on occasion,” Binder wrote. “He was an irreconcilable, irascible curmudgeon. That was part of his charm.”

With some of his students approaching the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination, a prerequisite to the bar exam, Traut says he and his fellow classmates will use this tragedy as motivation.

“(Rotunda) had been preparing us for this major ethics exam we’ll take in one week from now,” Traut said. “In his memory, we have a fire inside each of us to do even better than he could have hoped for.”

Professor Ronald Rotunda at the Watergate Committee hearing in June 2017. Photo by:

Extending his legacy outside Chapman, Rotunda authored textbooks which have become integrated into the curriculum at law schools around the country, “Legal Ethics – The Lawyer’s Deskbook on Professional Responsibility”, “Problems and Materials on Professional Responsibility” and “Modern Constitutional Law.” In addition, his scholarly works have been referenced in thousands of courtrooms globally.

“His sense of humor showed in many of these writings, as it did in the classroom, and in the private conversations that his friends were privileged to have with him,” Professor Tom Campbell said. “Rotunda brought national and international luster to the Fowler School of Law and to Chapman University.”


This story is an extension of a shorter story posted on March 15, 2018 by the Prowl Staff. 

This story will be updated as it develops. 

Rylea Gillis

Leave a Reply