SANTA FE – Diego Zamora, a successful Santa Fe trial lawyer known for an everyman courtroom style that allowed him to connect with juries, has died of pancreatic cancer at age 60.
“I would say that Diego was a little guy with a big heart,” said fellow attorney Ray Vargas on Monday. “One of his greatest skills as a lawyer was, he was a real person.”
“… He wasn’t trying to be fancy. He was a real person who connected on a face-to-face level with juries in ways that lawyers can practice their entire careers and never acquire that skill.”
Zamora’s passing was noted Monday by U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan-Grisham, the Democratic nominee for governor.
“I was heartbroken to learn that Diego Zamora passed away last night in Santa Fe, and my thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends,” she said in a statement.
“Diego was a true fighter throughout his entire life, and each challenge he overcame only made him stronger,” she said. “His compassion and strength defined him, especially in the face of adversity. He will truly be missed.”
Zamora, who specialized in personal injury, wrongful death, civil rights and other areas of the law, recently had become something of an issue in the governor’s race between Lujan-Grisham and Republican Steve Pearce, also a U.S. representative.
After a Pearce television ad accused Lujan-Grisham of “self-dealing” because of her ties to a company that has a state contract to help run New Mexico’s high-risk insurance pool, Zamora appeared in a response ad defending the Democratic nominee, saying her company had helped him get health coverage after his cancer diagnosis and saved his family from bankruptcy. Pearce shot back with another ad going after Zamora, for representing a state senator convicted of corruption and a 20-month disbarment of Zamora in 2001.
Vargas said Zamora was aware of the controversy. “His first thought was that he didn’t want it to take on a life of its own or become its own issue,” said Vargas, who added that Zamora was a lifetime Republican.
“He really did appreciate the fact that he was diagnosed with cancer and was able to get coverage he wouldn’t have in the past because we had the high risk pool.”
John Fox, another lawyer friend, said in an emailed comment that Zamora fought hard for friends and clients. “In the last two years, he used that fight to take on cancer and he gave it everything he had. As he fought to stay alive, I think he squeezed out every drop of life that he could and he shared his fire, his passion and, most of all, his love, with friends, family and even his foes.”
Vargas said Zamora was “one of the funniest, kindest, warmest people you would ever meet, and because he was so unassuming, he had lots of friends who didn’t eve know he was lawyer,” one with a law degree from Georgetown University. “He was a really funny guy who liked to hunt and liked to fish and tell stories.”
Zamora’s disbarment for pocketing clients’ money grew out of a substance abuse problem that Zamora acknowledged and sought help for, said Vargas. “He was proud of the fact that he made it through to the other side and was able to become a very high performing member of society,” Vargas said.
“He looked to be an example for other people who suffered from substance abuse.”