Colorful 1999 obituary for Judge William Ringel

Colorful 1999 obituary for Judge William Ringel

Here is wonderful information about the man who was Elly Ringel's benefactor in 1941. Helga said he was not related, but it is quite possible that he was distantly related. Note that he was born in Vienna of Polish Galician parents in 1901. I found his family's 1920 census record and found that his father Joseph was born in 1875 of parents from what is listed as Russian Galicia.

I looked in Poland databases at Jewish Gen and ran the same Ringel search that turns up Hermann's parents and grandparents in Rzeszow and I find by far the most Ringels in the same section of Galicia. No Joseph or Yosef born around 1875, however. Still it is not a stretch to think that Wilhelm Ringel's upwardly mobile father had moved his family to the cosmopolitan Vienna from somewhere in the vicinity of Rzeszow.

Note that his oldest daughter, Barbara Mendenhall, is the woman Helga became friendly with later in life.

William Ringel Is Dead at 97; A Zesty Figure on the Bench
Published: June 1, 1999    

William E. Ringel, who ruled Andy Warhol's ''Blue Movie'' obscene, lectured civil rights protesters on the evils of anarchy and sent a parade of slumlords, thieves and vagrants to jail in 25 years as a judge in Criminal Court and other lower courts in New York, died on Thursday at his apartment in Manhattan. He was 97.

The Austrian-born jurist was the United States Army's chief counterintelligence officer in Austria and Italy during World War II, helped organize the food-and-fuel relief effort for his native Vienna after the war, and later was active in German-American affairs. He helped found New York's Steuben Day Parade, celebrating German-American culture, and was its grand marshal for many years.

On the bench, his rulings set no major precedents and he did not preside over the big murder or corruption cases of his day. But from 1940 until his retirement in 1971 -- with time out for service in two wars -- Judge Ringel was a familiar and zesty figure in the workaday world of jurisprudence in Manhattan.

He sat in Criminal Court, Special Sessions Court, Traffic Court, Probation Court, Homeless Men's Court, Magistrates Court, Auto Accident Court and other courts of unlofty jurisdiction, often presiding over simple bail hearings or arraignments, or judging the misdemeanors of gamblers, loan sharks, brawlers, drunks, pickpockets, prostitutes, stowaways and other malefactors.

His cases often made headlines, however, as in 1969 when he was part of a three-judge panel that called Mr. Warhol's ''Blue Movie'' obscene. The judges, after viewing the film, said that its graphic sex was portrayed ''with no redeeming social value.''

In the social-political upheavals of the 1960's, protesters charged with disorderly conduct often faced Judge Ringel, who typically handed them stern lectures and suspended sentences. ''You cannot decide what laws to obey and what laws to disobey,'' he told seven clergymen, a seminarian and a social worker arrested in a 1963 protest against racial discrimination. ''If you don't like a law, the remedy is to go to the Legislature.'' But he let them go.

Eccentricity seemed indigenous to his courtroom. Not long after his 1940 appointment by Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia, for example, Magistrate Ringel fined himself $2 for a parking violation. ''Guilty as charged,'' he announced, pulling his black robe aside to dig out two $1 bills for the court clerk.

Amid the anguished cries of a half-dozen devotees of monkeys as house pets, he ruled in 1949 that five monkeys were ''wild beasts'' that could not be kept in a midtown apartment, but he suspended a workhouse term against their sobbing owner when he agreed to place them in a zoo.

And when 43 men in a bewildering array of costumes appeared before him in 1962, he dismissed charges of ''masquerading to conceal identity,'' a form of disorderly conduct, on the ground that they had been seized in a raid at the National Variety Artists Annual Ball, a real masquerade.

William Edmund Ringel was born in Vienna on Dec. 17, 1901, and as an infant was brought to New York by his parents and raised in Yorkville, a section of Manhattan where German was as common as English. He graduated from City College in 1923, became a city schoolteacher and attended night courses at New York University to earn his law degree in 1929.

He practiced law for 11 years before being named to the bench. His judicial career spanned 31 years, but was interrupted twice -- for four years during and just after World War II, and for two years in the Korean conflict. He retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

While his courts were frequently reorganized and renamed, Judge Ringel became a courthouse regular, reappointed by Mayors William O'Dwyer, Robert F. Wagner and John V. Lindsay.

Judge Ringel taught law at the New York Police Academy, and was the author of numerous articles on the law and several textbooks, including ''Searches and Seizures, Arrests and Confessions,'' (Clark Boardman Callaghan, 1972, 1981). He was also active in veterans and German-American organizations and helped found the Steuben Day Parade in 1958 and was its grand marshal for 14 years.

After his retirement from the bench, Judge Ringel was a hearing officer for the New York State retirement system, and also worked for the state as an arbitrator/mediator and a judicial hearing officer.
His wife, the former Irma Marie Saxl, whom he married in 1926, died in 1989. He is survived by his daughter, Barbara Simner Mendenhall, of Saratoga, Calif.; two sisters, Claire Rifkin, of Yonkers, and Nettie Fishman, of Long Beach, N.Y.; two grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.