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Robert Lazo, best known for helping to bring a landmark wrongful death suit in the San Francisco dog-mauling case, died of cancer Dec. 31 at his Berkeley home. He was 41. The founder of San Francisco’s Employment Lawyers’ Group, Lazo is remembered as a soft-spoken yet passionate attorney whose interests included jazz and science fiction movies. Four years ago he was co-counsel for Sharon Smith, whose partner was fatally mauled by neighbors’ dogs outside their Pacific Heights apartment. When a San Francisco judge allowed the suit, it became the first in which a same-sex partner was given survivor standing in a wrongful death case. “This is a momentous day, not only for gay rights, but for human rights as well,” Lazo said at the time. Born in San Francisco but brought up in Los Angeles and Yorktown Heights, N.Y., Lazo attended Stanford Law School where he also received a master’s degree in Latin American studies. Lazo worked first at Littler Mendelson, and then spent several years handling discrimination cases for the Law Offices of Arnold Laub in San Francisco, where he shared office space with attorney Frank Morelli. “A lot of the cases he worked on were difficult, and the clients had gone through difficult events,” Morelli said. “He was always very compassionate, very professional when dealing with people.” Former San Francisco Supervisor Angela Alioto credits Lazo, a friend and former colleague, with helping her legal career get off the ground. They worked together on Alioto’s first case, a discrimination suit against Coca-Cola. When the case was settled for an undisclosed amount, the two took the settlement document to Alioto’s father, former Mayor Joseph Alioto, for a signing ceremony. “My dad was dying of cancer, and Robert was like, my best friend,” Alioto recalled. “My dad looked at [the settlement document] and said, ‘This means Angela is going to be just fine.’” Lazo later went on to found the seven-attorney Employment Lawyers’ Group, where he specialized in workplace discrimination and harassment cases. Orlando Ortega, an associate at the firm, said Lazo had a calm demeanor that could be deceiving to those unfamiliar with his courtroom style. “He rehearsed quite a bit what he was going to say, and it was designed so you could hear him in the back of the room,” Ortega said. “He personally was a very soft-spoken person, but when he got in front of the court, it was like he was on stage.” Friends said Lazo enjoyed jazz and was a proficient bass player with his own home studio. He also practiced martial arts and loved samurai and science fiction movies, particularly the Star Wars films. Lazo was a private person, and few people knew he was sick. Last year, Alioto noticed her friend looked “so thin, and not pale but jaundiced.” She said Lazo initially saw a chiropractor for back pain. X-rays later determined he had a tumor on his kidney that had spread to his spinal cord. He is survived by his wife, Gina, of Berkeley, three sisters and his parents.

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