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Walter Gerash, Renowned Trial Lawyer and Fierce Advocate for Civil Justice, Dies at 96 After a Long Career Spanning over Five Decades

Walter Gerash, a towering figure in the world of law, passed away at the age of 96 after a long decline, leaving behind a legacy that will forever be remembered. Gerash was a diminutive man, but his reputation as a trial lawyer was larger than life. He was renowned for his creative courtroom antics, fearlessness, and passion for civil justice, and his booming voice could capture the attention of even the most jaded jurors.

According to his family, Gerash died of natural causes at his home in Littleton on Sunday. His son, Dan Gerash, who is also a trial lawyer, said his father’s zeal for justice was unmatched. “Fighting for people who are oppressed or having their rights violated really is his life,” Dan told Super Lawyers. “He was an amazing person, and I was lucky to have him as a father.”

Gerash’s legal career spanned over five decades, during which he tried some of Colorado’s most notorious cases, winning most of them. He represented professional heavyweight boxer Ron Lyle, who was accused of first-degree murder in the shooting death of his trainer, and secured his acquittal. He also defended James King, a former Denver police officer accused of shooting and killing four security guards during a robbery on Fathers’ Day in 1991 at United Bank (now Wells Fargo) on 17th Avenue and Broadway. Despite witnesses who claimed to identify King, Gerash, along with Scott Robinson, won an acquittal, and the crime remains unresolved to this day.

But it wasn’t just his legal prowess that made Gerash legendary. He was fiercely passionate about civil injustices and fought for minorities, underdogs, and social conditions he considered unfair. He represented members of the Black Panther party, as well as many Chicano activists, including Francisco “Kiko” Martínez, accused of mailing letter bombs. He also worked with Denver activist Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales’ Crusade for Justice in its struggles against employment discrimination and police brutality against Hispanics.

Gerash was known for his theatrical antics in the courtroom, and one of his most famous cases involved suing the University of Denver for negligence after a student broke his neck on a trampoline in 1978. Gerash brought the trampoline into the courtroom, along with a replica of a skeleton with a broken neck. During a break in proceedings, Gerash intentionally tossed the skeleton onto the trampoline with its head ajar, directly in front of the jury. The jury awarded the largest personal-injury award in Colorado history, though it was later reduced by the Colorado Supreme Court.

Despite his outward image of being prickly and impatient, Gerash was beloved by his staff and clerks, who spoke warmly of him. “He was very generous,” said secretary and paralegal Marj Reinhardt. He mentored or had as clerks some now-prominent names in the legal community, such as Earl Wylder, Scott Robinson, and John Kane, now a senior U.S. District Court judge.

Gerash was born in the Bronx section of New York City in 1926. He spent two years in the Army, then attended UCLA, where he also started law school but claimed he was “pushed out” for his zealous progressive views. He finished law school at the University of Denver, then received a master’s degree in history from the University of Chicago. His 100-page thesis addressed imperialism in Africa.

Gerash had three marriages, all of which ended in divorce. He had two sons from his first marriage to Helen, a psychiatrist in Denver. Walter said he was very close to his sons and proud of them, but they lived in different cities and they didn’t get to see each other often.

After his first marriage ended, Gerash remarried to a woman named Susan. They had a daughter together, but eventually divorced. Gerash’s third marriage was to a woman named Maria, who was his secretary at the time. They remained married until Gerash’s death.

Despite his personal difficulties, Gerash was known for his intelligence and legal acumen. He was also known for his work as a mentor to young attorneys, many of whom he helped launch successful legal careers.

Gerash’s most high-profile case was the defense of John DeLorean, who was accused of drug trafficking in the early 1980s. Gerash successfully argued that DeLorean had been entrapped by the government and the case was ultimately dismissed.

Gerash’s legacy in the legal community is one of an intelligent and skilled attorney who fought passionately for his clients. His personal struggles with addiction and failed marriages serve as a reminder that even the most successful and accomplished individuals are not immune to the challenges of life.

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