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July 25, 2010

Memoir - The Bodenheimer Saga

Brigitte and Edgar Bodenheimer were colleagues and dear friends for many of us. My relationship with them was very close. I even gave them a ride to the San Francisco Airport, and when they left on a trip, I would babysit their home. And when they first visited Davis to check out everything, I drove them around on a tour of the town.  In my entire experience with Brigitte and Edgar, they never spoke of the past. Here is some information about them that I garnered from an outside source.

Brigitte and Edgar were natives of Germany and trained as lawyers there.  Brigitte’s father, Ernst Levy, was a renowned Roman law expert. Back in the early 30’s, after reading Hitler’s book, Mein Kampf, Edgar concluded that the family should quickly leave Germany.

The family wound up in Seattle, where Ernst Levy had received an appointment at the University of Washington as a history professor. But there was a problem. Ernst did not speak English well, if at all. This was quickly remedied by Brigitte. She transliterated his written lectures so that when he read them, he was reading what appeared to be German but the sounds were coming out as English.

At the same time, Brigitte and Edgar matriculated at the University of Washington law school. Both did well. In fact, after classes, students would assemble around the outgoing Brigitte to discuss what went on in the class lectures, while reticent Edgar would stand on the periphery and listen attentively. On one occasion, Edgar suddenly spoke up to disagree with what Brigitte had stated.  He cited the exact page and words from the casebook to emphasize his disagreement.  Edgar obviously had a photographic memory. The students then started gathering around Edgar.

From Seattle, the Bodenheimers moved to Washington, D.C. where eventually Edgar wound up on the staff of the prosecution at the Nuremburg Trials. From there, the Bodenheimers went on and joined the law faculty at the University of Utah where they did very well. But the siren song of Davis lured them to the new UCD law school and they became part of the founding faculty. We talked about many things, which was easy to do since our offices were near each other. Edgar helped me by evaluating a program that my son wished to join. Brigitte helped me much with great input on family law issues, especially childrens’ rights, that I was researching. But never was there any referring to what I state above. This was related to me by Marian Gallagher, the law librarian at the University of Washington, who knew the Bodenheimers well too.

One further item. Edgar specialized in legal philosophy, but he also taught a class in Equity law, which at the time was emphasized on the California Bar Exam. After the exam books were graded, the State Bar would send reports to each law school indicating how their students did on the various subjects covered by the exam. Edgar’s students always did very well above average. His scores usually put him at or near the top when compared to our other UCD teachers. This I remember well because I was always amazed that a philosopher could handle so well a basic subject like Equity.