Las Vegas lawyer Jerry Kaufman dies at 79

Jerry Jack Kaufman, an “old-school nice guy” and prominent lawyer in Las Vegas who loved law, skiing and baseball, died in his sleep Sunday of natural causes. He was 79.

Long-time friend and fellow Las Vegas attorney Neil Beller has known Kaufman since the early 1970s. Kaufman, he said, was one of those “older civil practicing attorneys that when they say something with a handshake you can rely on it, for the most part.”

“He always tried to do the right thing,” Beller said.

After getting his juris doctorate from the California Western School of Law in San Diego, Kaufman came to Las Vegas in 1965 to work as a government lawyer at the Nevada Test Site, now known as the Nevada National Security Site.

Aside from his law degree, Kaufman also earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of Arizona and a master’s degree in business from Westminster College in Salt Lake City.

He spent most of his 50-year career providing legal advice to political and business leaders working as an attorney and an alternate judge. Kaufman was one of the five founding members of the law firm Jones, Jones, Close, Bilbray and Kaufman. Other members included former Nevada Assembly Speaker and State Senator Melvin D. Close and former congressman James Bilbray. The firm merged with another and became Jones-Vargas.

He served in the U.S. Air Force Reserves and took on pro bono cases for veterans when he could. He held leadership positions with various charitable organizations, including the Boys Scouts of America, the March of Dimes and the American National Red Cross.

Kaufman planned to marry his fiancée, 61-year-old Li Yun Cao, a real estate agent, when he turned 80 in September.

Chuck Baker, former real estate editor at the Review-Journal and a friend of Kaufman’s, said losing him just one month before he was going to marry his fiancée is a “double tragedy.”

“He had already sent out invitations,” Baker said. “I knew everyone who knew him and we were excited. That he and Lindsay would not get to spend time together as man and wife, was another tragedy.”

Their wedding day was also when he planned to retire, Cao said.

“Jerry always said he was going to retire, but he never stopped,” she said. “I really wanted him to retire. His whole life, he worked hard.”

Kaufman was born in Cleveland on Sept. 3, 1935. Aside from his fiancée, Kaufman leaves behind his two children, Sandi Raines and Keith Kaufman, as well as his grandson, Matthew Raines.

A memorial service is set for 1 p.m. Friday at the Spanish Trail Country Club, 5050 Spanish Trail Lane in Las Vegas, where Kaufman was a member for more than 20 years.

Contact Michelle Iracheta at or 702-387-5205. Find her on Twitter: @cephira.

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