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Top personal injury lawyer Galatz was courtroom dynamo

Neil Galatz loved his family, he loved the law, and he loved his Morgan horses.

When he died unexpectedly at home Thursday morning at age 79, the news flashed through the Las Vegas legal community. One of the good guys was gone.

"He was the best damn lawyer I've ever met, and I have several hundred lawyers working under me right now," said brother-in-law Jon Wellinghoff, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Galatz, who moved to Las Vegas in 1957 from New York, was one of the top personal injury attorneys in Las Vegas and was recognized and honored nationwide for his ability. He was meticulous in his preparation and a commanding figure in the courtroom with his shiny bald head.

Galatz never needed to advertise. Word of mouth about his talent brought clients to his offices.

He took leadership roles in representing victims in three of the biggest disasters, and most complex cases, ever seen in Las Vegas: the 1980 MGM Grand fire , which settled for $138 million; the 1981 Las Vegas Hilton fire , which settled for more than $22 million; and the 1988 PEPCON explosion , which settled for $71 million.

"I worked with him for four years on the PEPCON case," Wellinghoff said. "There were 150 depositions in the PEPCON case, and he could pick up on people's nuances of speech and mannerisms. He'd catch things no one else caught. His preparation was so meticulous and so thorough, and it showed when he got into the courtroom."

Gerry Gordon, who considered Galatz a mentor, said, "Neil dominated the courtroom, with his bald head and his suits and ties. What I learned from him is when you go into a courtroom, you dominate the courtroom. And he did, he was the focal point."

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Sunday at the King David Memorial Chapel, 2697 E. Eldorado Lane.

The first news clip about Galatz in the Review-Journal's file said the then 26-year-old was going to be a deputy district attorney starting in 1959, one of five deputies.

About 53 years later, he was of counsel with Gordon Silver and was working Wednesday, the day before he died.

"What was remarkable about him was his continuing curiosity and engagement," his sister, Karen Galatz, said Friday. "He was frequently sharing with us all the latest scientific journals he had just read and the latest finding."

His sister said Galatz "was really sort of both elegant and intellectual and an everyman in that he was kind and generous and in many ways heroic. He was, in the best sense of the phrase, a larger-than-life person."

His interests were varied, from the politics of Israel to theater to energy. And, of course, those Morgans.

He and Elaine, his wife of 51 years, started Vegas Valley Morgans Horse Farms in 1981 to breed and train Morgan horses. The family, including daughters Lara and Leesa, all competed in horse shows around the country.

The high-powered attorney once described to me the total peace he felt when he rode in the desert: "It's a better high than anything I know. Very, very relaxing."

His wife's dream had become his joy.

Attorney Jeff Silver said, "In the field of torts, he was the best in the city for many, many years. He always had that shaved head, it's like you were staring down Kojak. He looked like he could dismantle you with his thoughts and his words. He was a dynamo."

A dynamo who saw the potential to be a lawyer in Las Vegas, to grow with the city and help the city grow. That was Neil Galatz.

Jane Ann Morrison's column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call her at (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/Morrison

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