DA failed to warn Volpes, suit claims

By Lois Henry
Californian staff writer

Robert Courtney was a dangerous man, and the district attorney’s office knew it.
But the county failed to warn Ken and Cindy Volpe about just how dangerous Courtney was and the couple paid with their lives, according to a lawsuit filed by attorney John Hall on behalf of the Volpe children.
The county disagrees it had a duty to give the Volpes special warning and will try to have the suit dismissed in a hearing set for Feb. 3, according to court records.
‘This is the horse race part of the case,” Hall said.
Attorneys for the county refused to comment on any portion of the case before the hearing.
Hall said California case law clearly states if a governmental entity enters into a special relationship with a victim or witness it takes on a burden to protect that person.
He contends the county entered into that kind of relationship with Cindy Volpe when she agreed to testify against Courtney for beating her in the summer of 1991.
Cindy Volpe was a housing inspector for the Environmental Health Department and had cited an apartment complex Courtney owned. Courtney, a multimillionaire, apparently beat her until she pretended to black out. Police charged Courtney with assault and the case went to jury trial.
A year later on Aug. 18, 1992 – the day the jury was scheduled to deliver a verdict in the assault case – Courtney sneaked into the Volpe home. He gunned down Ken and Cindy Volpe and Cindy’s mother, Betty Reed, as the Volpe children, Keith, then 14, and Andrea, then 9, watched. Courtney escaped, but police gunned him dwon the following day after a high-speed chase on Highway 58.
In the suit, Hall says district attorney’s office knew that Courtney had the potential to harm the Volpes and did nothing in advance of the killings.
Police and prosecutors had received complaints about Courtney threatening people before, but no criminal charges had been filed against him until assault on Volpe, Hall said.
The Californian later learned Courtney shot to death his mother, a sister and a brother in Alaska when he was 13. Although that information isn’t part of the case, it was the basis for a bill by Assemblyman Trice Harvey, R-Bakersfield, making its way through the state Legislature.
‘They had a duty to protect the Volpes and it could have been as simple as telling them to watch their backs or change their living habits while the trial was ongoing, none of which occurred,” Hall said. “In fact, the opposite appears to be true. They were reassured any risk was remote.”
“My brother and his wife were naïve about the system,” said Louann Matthias, Ken Volpe’s sister. “They believed that they were told by the D.A.”
This is just one of several lawsuits involving either the Volpes or Courtney.
In on case, the Volpe children are suing Courtney’s estate for wrongful death. That suit goes to court on March 14, coincidentally, Ken Volpe’s birthday.
Matthias said the Volpe children, now living in Madera with their paternal grandparents, are still in therapy.