Retired Merced County Superior Court Judge and Los Banos native Robert M. Falasco has died.
According to an obituary submitted to Whitehurst Funeral Chapel by his loved ones, Falasco died Friday surrounded by family members. He was 89 years old.
One of five children born to Dominic and Theresa Falasco, he was elected to the Justice Court in 1958, where he served until 1977. In 1977, he was appointed to Merced County's Municipal Court, and served until his appointment to the Superior Court in 1982. He retired in 1985.
Friends and family members remembered Falasco as a devoted family man and passionate community advocate.
Bob Erreca, 76, a longtime Los Banos rancher and state probate referee, said Falasco had been ill in recent years. Erreca said his friend was a "good people person" who was known to show compassion and fairness in the courtroom. "You weren't just a guy that appeared before him," Erreca recalled. "He was interested in why you were there and how he could help you."
Falasco was considered a need-to-know person among local politicians, and was particularly active in the local Democratic party. Aspiring politicians always made a point of trying to sit next to Falasco during community dinners in Los Banos. "If you were a smart politician, you'd have your picture taken with the judge," Erreca said.
Judge Frank Dougherty said he prosecuted his first trial in front of Falasco in 1978. Dougherty then worked as a deputy district attorney in the Merced County District Attorney's Office. Dougherty said he also had the "good fortune" in 1981 to prosecute a $3.5 million embezzlement case in Falasco's court. "To a young lawyer, Judge Falasco seemed larger than life. He was, simply put, the best. Everyone respected him and looked forward to appearing in his court," Dougherty said.
Supervisor Jerry O'Banion called Falasco an outstanding judge who served his community well. O'Banion said Falasco was also known to show kindness to young people in his courtroom, and would have "leniency in his heart" when the case warranted it.
For example, O'Banion said Falasco would sometimes hold onto the driver's licenses of some teens who had committed traffic infractions, placing them in his desk. After he felt the teens had learned a lesson, he would offer words of advice and return their licenses. "He was one of the special ones that could be stern and put justice out that was meaningful, but at the same time he would also be kind-hearted and try to help individuals," O'Banion recalled.
O'Banion said he visited Falasco three weeks ago. "I was certainly glad that I did. I always looked at him as a good friend and as a good mentor," he said.
Congressman Jim Costa, D-Fresno, met Falasco in 1973 while working as an intern for Congressman B.F. Sisk. Costa, who referred to Falasco as "his honor," credited him with being one of the first supporters of UC Merced, and as a person who was involved in improving the court system. Costa described Falasco as a role model who could always be sought for advice. "I think he'll be seen as a person who cared very much about the Valley, who gave back both as a lawyer and as a judge," Costa said.
Former Merced City Councilman Jim Sanders, who met Falasco in the late 1960s, called Falasco a political mentor who was tough and fair as a judge. Sanders said Falasco also supported "every type of community project" imaginable. "His influence was not all about politics. It was all about helping people," Sanders said. "Those of us that he touched, in whatever way, we have a piece of that incredible spirit and we need to carry it on."
In addition to his 26 years as a judge, Falasco served as a trustee for Los Banos Elementary School from 1955 to 1958 and director of the Merced County Fair Board for 15 years. He served on the Board of Fellows for the University of Santa Clara, and played an active role in the building of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School and Memorial Hospital Los Banos.
Falasco served in the U.S. Army Air Corps from May 1943 to March 1946. The Merced County Superior Court in Los Banos is named in his honor, and he was bestowed the honor of Papal Knight of the Order of St. Gregory by Pope Paul VI.
Falasco was a 1951 graduate of Santa Clara University School of Law. He was admitted to practice by the California State Bar in 1952.
He's survived by his wife of 63 years, Yvonne, four children, two sons-in-law, one daughter-in-law and 11 grandchildren.
The visitation is scheduled for 5-7 p.m. Tuesday at Whitehurst Chapel in Los Banos, 1840 S. Center Ave. The rosary is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Whitehurst Chapel. His funeral Mass is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at St. Joseph's Church, 1621 Center Ave. in Los Banos.
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