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Charles B. O’Reilly Dies at Age 70

by Susan McRae
Daily Journal Staff Writer

September 14, 2010

LOS ANGELES — Trial lawyer Charles B. O’Reilly, who was fond of saying what he loved most were good judges and beautiful women, has died. He was 70.

O’Reilly had been in failing health for the past several years. He died Thursday of lung cancer at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica.

Services are set for Saturday morning at St. Joan of Arc Church, 820 Division St. in Lisle, Ill. The family asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the American Lung Association, www.lungusa.org.

One of 10 children of Irish-Catholic immigrants, O’Reilly grew up on Chicago’s South Side. He found his way to Los Angeles via a stint in the U.S. Marines. After earning an undergraduate degree from California State University, Los Angeles in 1969, he graduated in 1972 from Loyola Law School, while working nights as a bartender in Hollywood.

He started out doing defense work and some plaintiffs’ work with Morgan, Wentzel & McNicholas in Los Angeles. In 1975, he joined what now has become Greene Broillet & Wheeler in Santa Monica, racking up some of the biggest jury verdicts in the state, from patent infringement to product liability cases. He was twice named Trial Lawyer of the Year by Consumer Attorneys of Los Angeles.

In one particularly high-profile case, O’Reilly won a $30 million racketeering judgment against the Church of Scientology for brainwashing and fraud. The award was reduced on appeal, and the church turned around and sued the jurors and the trial judge. O’Reilly agreed to forego his fee to represent the jurors and judge without a conflict of interest and succeeded in getting the case dismissed.

“He never made him- self the main focus, yet the jurors were always watching everything he did and said,” Panish said. “He was a pheno- menal trial lawyer.”

O’Reilly left the firm in 1989 to practice on his own.

Longtime friend and colleague Garo Mardirossian, who was co-counsel with Reilly on eight cases, including the Scientology case, credits his friend’s large family and his gig as a bartender for helping teach him how to deal with people. He called him a walking encyclopedia of the law, who had a photographic memory and rarely had to consult backup documents.

“He would meet somebody and five years later remember them,” Mardirossian said. “This guy was good at every level. He would charm the jurors, not by being silly but by knowing the law and what he was talking about.

“If you met him, you wouldn’t forget him. He always had that smile and always had something nice to say about you and about life. ‘Isn’t it good to be alive’ was one of his most common expressions.”

“He never made himself the main focus, yet the jurors were always watching everything he did and said,” Panish said. “He was a phenomenal trial lawyer.”

Brian Panish, who also was a partner at Greene Broillet, first met O’Reilly when he was in junior high school. He would play basketball on the school grounds and O’Reilly, then a law student, would run the court with the younger boys. When Panish joined Greene Broillet in 1987, O’Reilly was still there.

Although O’Reilly was a flamboyant personality outside of court, with a great sense of humor and Irish gift of gab, in the courtroom he was very low key, Panish said.

“He never made himself the main focus, yet the jurors were always watching everything he did and said,” Panish said. “He was a phenomenal trial lawyer.”

Two of O’Reilly’s younger brothers, Paul and Steve O’Reilly, are also attorneys in Los Angeles.

Paul O’Reilly said that “100 percent without question” he was influenced to become a lawyer because of his brother.

“Once I saw how passionate he was about the law, it was contagious,” Paul O’Reilly said. “You couldn’t be around Charlie without catching it.”

Friends and colleagues said O’Reilly embraced his life outside the courtroom with equal zest and passion.

Married for a brief period in his youth, O’Reilly and his former wife, have two adult children. After his divorce, O’Reilly remained a confirmed bachelor, although he commented often on how he loved women. He had a longtime friendship with former Chief Justice Rose Bird, but, friends said, it remained platonic.

O’Reilly summed up his philosophy in a wide-ranging 2007 profile in the Daily Journal, saying: “Life’s a gamble. Every time I walk into court and every time I date a beautiful woman, it’s a gamble.

“But the best way to get over a broken heart is to be in trial. It’s the best way to get over a broken heart. And a lot of them break my heart. They really do.”

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