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James Boccardo, a brash San Jose personal injury lawyer who made his mark by winning huge personal injury settlements, died Monday evening at home. He was 91. “He was one of the old lions like Joe Alioto, Vince Hallinan, Mel Belli — these guys breathed fire from their veins,” said John Stein, a partner at The Boccardo Law Firm for 30 years. In 1973, Boccardo won the single highest personal injury verdict of its time — a $3.5 million case against Westinghouse — which was subsequently entered in the “Guinness Book of World Records.” Boccardo also had a reputation for his fiery personality. In 1979, he got into fisticuffs with attorney Robert Mezzetti outside a San Jose courtroom. Twelve years later, The Recorder ran an article about Mezzetti in which he commented on the fight, which had become courtroom lore. Angry at Mezzetti’s characterization of the events, Boccardo sent a letter to the editor: “Mezzetti’s memory is like a champagne cork after it is pulled. It swells and expands and never returns to its original state. He ‘decked’ me just like Saddam Hussein decked Schwarzkopf.” Although his personality was contentious, Boccardo’s colleagues remember him as a skilled attorney. “He was a stunningly focused and supreme advocate in the courtroom, and everyone who ever worked with Jim became part of the Boccardo family — which is largely a brotherhood that likes to fight,” said Richard Alexander, a former partner at the Boccardo firm who left in 1987. “In fact, they enjoy fighting so much that if no one is around, they fight each other,” continued Alexander, a name partner with Alexander, Hawes & Audet in San Jose. Boccardo’s father, an Italian immigrant, became a successful banker at Bank of America after coming to the United States from Genoa. In 1965, in memory of his father, Boccardo donated a bronze of Abraham Lincoln to the civil courthouse in San Jose. But, as so often happened in Boccardo’s life, a fight ensued. The plaque for the statue was rejected because authorities said it would give Boccardo an unfair advantage with jurors, who would read his name upon entering the courthouse. After 35 years, Boccardo finally moved the statue — and the plaque — to the county building. An engineering major at San Jose State University, Boccardo boxed on the school’s team. He attended Stanford Law School and practiced law until his 1997 retirement. Boccardo’s law firm, originally called Boccardo, Blum, Lull, Niland, Teerlink & Bell, thrived in the 1960s through the early 1980s, opening satellite offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Orange County. But in the late 1980s, the firm experienced a huge defection in its partnership ranks. By 1991 the firm was struggling financially and had to lay off some associates and staff for the first time. In addition, it had to close down its satellite locations. But Boccardo’s real fortune came from his business and real estate holdings. “He always said he was really a businessman and just did the law for recreation,” said Stein. In addition to commercial property in San Jose, Boccardo owned a large cattle ranch in Nevada and agricultural properties in California. “Words never hurt him, and he assumed that no one else was hurt by his words, which was not the case,” said Alexander. “But in Jim’s value system, if the words alone were going to hurt, then he wasn’t quite sure you were strong enough to stand up to the fight.” Boccardo is survived by his wife, Lorraine, and his two children, John, an architect in Tiburon, and Leanne Rees, a musician in Washington, D.C. No memorial has been scheduled.

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