Robert L. Brosio dies at 77; retired federal prosecutor

Robert L. Brosio dies at 77; retired federal prosecutor
Robert L. Brosio, who led the criminal division of the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles for 28 years, died Friday.
(Los Angeles Times)

Robert L. Brosio, a retired federal prosecutor who supervised high-profile cases that included those against bank swindler Charles Keating Jr. and Los Angeles police officers who were involved in the beating of Rodney King, has died. He was 77.

Brosio, who for 28 years led the criminal division of the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles, had a massive pulmonary embolism in February, his daughter Serena Brosio said. He died Friday at a Pasadena hospital.


While he seldom argued cases in court himself, Brosio was in charge of more than 100 prosecutors and set a standard of “ramrod integrity,” said Nora Manella, an associate justice of the California Court of Appeal in Los Angeles.

Manella worked under Brosio before she was appointed U.S. attorney in 1994 and went on to serve as a trial judge at the state and federal levels.


While on the federal bench, she kept Brosio in mind when she occasionally saw prosecutors doing things that wouldn’t have met his approval.

“I never said, ‘Why, when I was a U.S. attorney, we never would have done that,’” she told The Times. “I’d say, ‘Bob Brosio never would have let us do that.’ ”

Brosio was a polymath who enthusiastically shared his passions for history, Stanford football, opera, and classic films.

“Every Fred Astaire movie, every John Ford movie ... everything I know about Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne, I know from him,” Manella said with a laugh.


Brosio grew up amid the trappings of vintage Hollywood glamour. His father, Frederick Brosio Sr., owned racehorses, nightclubs and celebrity restaurants.

When Brosio’s mother Natalina went into labor, the excited Frederick announced it to diners at his Hollywood restaurant, Lucey’s, and asked for a quick ride to the hospital. He was driven by the writer James M. Cain, author of hard-boiled mysteries such as “Double Indemnity,” who suggested a way to pick the newborn’s name.

“Who’s your favorite author?” Cain asked.

It was Stevenson — Robert Louis Stevenson.


Born on July 19, 1936, Robert Louis Brosio grew up in Los Angeles. He attended Stanford and Stanford Law School before serving in the Pentagon with the Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps.

In 1963, he joined the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles, where he became chief of the criminal division in 1966.

His brother Fred Brosio, who also attended Stanford and Stanford Law School, became chief of the office’s civil division three years earlier.

The Brosio brothers were “virtually an institution within an institution,” The Times said in 1986.

The two built homes in South Pasadena around the corner from each other. Fred Brosio died in January.

Leading the criminal division, Brosio was responsible for the office’s day-to-day operations. He also was a mentor to the legion of aggressive young attorneys he hired, overseeing their work on a range of cases that included political corruption and espionage.

Brosio shunned publicity but supervised cases that became famous. During his tenure, prosecutors went after Christopher Boyce, a spy who was convicted after selling secrets to the Soviet Union. Boyce’s story was the subject of the 1985 movie, “The Falcon and the Snowman.”

Brosio’s last big case was the 1993 trial of four Los Angeles police officers on charges of violating Rodney King’s civil rights in King’s beating two years earlier. The four had been acquitted during a state trial on assault charges; in the federal trial, Stacey Koon and Laurence Powell were convicted, although their prison sentences were considered light by some observers.

Brosio retired in 1994.

He was “nothing short of a legend,” current U.S. Atty. Andre Birotte Jr. said in a statement.

The U.S. attorney’s main conference room is named after Brosio. And a full-length oil portrait of Brosio in a dark suit hangs in the office near much smaller portraits of U.S. attorneys past. It was commissioned by lawyers who worked for him.

“That pretty much says it all,” Manella said.

Anne Brosio, Brosio’s wife of 47 years, died in 2009.

In addition to his daughter Serena, his is survived by son Hilaire Brosio and a grandson.

A memorial service is set for 10 a.m. April 4 at Holy Family Church in South Pasadena.