Attorney Joe Neeper, 82, was “Dean of San Diego management side labor law” Written by
1:34 p.m., Nov. 15, 2012
Joe Neeper saw the opportunity for creating something new when he was recruited straight out of UCLA Law School to join Gray Cary Ames & Frye in 1959. He parlayed his interest in antitrust and labor law into establishing the first full-time management side practice in San Diego, simultaneously representing such clients as the City of San Diego, the Port of San Diego, and San Diego County as labor relations adviser.
During his 35-year tenure at the law firm, Mr. Neeper developed more than 20 partners and associates to represent large employers in the community as well as public entities, arts organizations and several universities. His prominent clients included General Dynamics, Solar Turbines, the Copley Press and the Zoological Society of San Diego.
“He produced decades of labor peace in San Diego by working
collaboratively with both unions and management,” said Pat Crowell, a law school classmate, partner and friend.
Mr. Neeper died of complications from Parkinson’s disease on Oct. 29 at his home in San Diego. He was 82.
Mr. Neeper also served as general counsel to the University of San Diego, where he was an adjunct labor law professor for more than 20 years. And he mentored a raft of young attorneys along the way.
“Joe was truly the Dean of San Diego management side labor law,” said Rich Paul, an attorney mentored by Mr. Neeper. “He taught us how to be good lawyers, but more than that, he showed us how to be professionals and he modeled how to live as a professional.
“By his example, Joe combined service to clients of the law firm, service to institutions in the community and teaching all into one magnificent career,” he said.
In 1982, Mr. Neeper became Gray Cary’s first managing partner, a position he held until 1989 when he stepped down to become the firm’s first chair.
So respected and renown was his reputation throughout Southern California, Mr. Neeper was nominated to be a member of the City of Los Angeles Employee Relations Board, a role he served from 1968 to 1994. After retiring from active practice in 1995, Mr. Neeper was appointed by Gov. Wilson to be a commissioner on the Public Utilities
Commission, serving almost six years.
Josiah Light Neeper was born on May 5, 1930 in Philadelphia, the youngest of three children to Samuel Neeper and Bess Weller. When his father died, he was sent at age six to Girard College, an orphanage in Philadelphia, where he remained until he graduated from high school and rejoined his mother who had moved to San Diego. Graduating from San Diego State College with a bachelor’s degree in economics, Mr. Neeper served two years in the Army in Germany before entering UCLA Law School.
Outside the legal arena, Mr. Neeper contributed to his beloved community by serving as a director or officer for the Old Globe, San Diego Opera, the San Diego Zoo, Scripps Memorial Hospital and the Timken Museum of Art. He felt strongly that professionals held the responsibility and privilege of being advisers to the community’s people and institutions, Paul said.
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