Talbot D’Alemberte, 1933-2019

Former president who won an ‘Emmy’ for his work to open US courtrooms to television cameras remembered

June 6, 2019
Talbot D'Alemberte

A university leader who served in the Florida legislature and won an “Emmy” for his work on open government has died.

Talbot D’Alemberte was born in Tallahassee, Florida in 1933 and went to school within the state before gaining a degree in political science at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee (1955). He had family connections with Florida State University, since his grandfather attended a seminary and his mother a women’s college, both of which later became part of the university, and he first forged his own links by attending summer school there.

After military service on a destroyer, Professor D’Alemberte secured a Rotary Foundation fellowship at the London School of Economics and in 1962 received a doctorate in law at the University of Florida. He distinguished himself there as president of the student bar association and captain of the moot court team, where students took part in extracurricular mock legal proceedings, received the J. Hillis Miller Award for the outstanding law graduate and was inducted into the Order of the Coif, which honours top law students.

All this proved a launch pad for a distinguished legal and political career, most prominently as a member of the Florida House of Representatives (1966-72). While practising law with Steel Hector & Davis in Miami, Professor D’Alemberte appeared as chief counsel in impeachment proceedings against three Florida Supreme Court justices and as pro bono counsel in four death penalty cases. He was also a pioneering mediator, notably in a water dispute between Alabama, Florida and Georgia, and president of both the American Judicature Society (1982-84) and the American Bar Association (1991-92).

In midlife, Professor D’Alemberte switched to a leadership role within the academy, as the fourth dean of the FSU College of Law (1984-89) and then president of the university (1994-2003). Although he later returned to legal practice, he also continued teaching at the law school and worked on the second, 2016 edition of his book on The Florida Constitution (1991).

Professor D’Alemberte held honorary degrees from the University of the West Indies and The Open University in the UK as well as a number of American institutions. His commitment to open government, and particularly his involvement in proceedings that led to cameras gaining access to US courtrooms, won him an unexpected “Emmy” from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in 1985.

He died unexpectedly on 20 May and is survived by his wife Patsy Palmer, a son and a daughter.


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