Along the way to becoming one of the city's most influential figures, politically wired attorney Willie Shepherd bullied, belittled, lied, and then some. And his fellow partners at Kamlet Shepherd & Reichert failed to stop him until two junior attorneys took a stand.
VII. POTENTIAL CONFILCTS
After the meeting at the Market, nothing about Shepherd's behavior visibly changed, according to several sources. If anything, it got worse. Shepherd again asked Staks to alert the city to CBS Outdoor's possible permit issues. In early October, Staks says, Shepherd responded to the "Stirring the pot" e-mail by telling Staks to do as he was directed and to not put anything like that in an e-mail again. Staks continued to not call the city. Then there was a conflict of interest that Shepherd seemed to ignore.
Shepherd represented AEG Live, Rocky Mountain Region, the music and sports subsidiary of the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG). Legendary concert promoter Chuck Morris is the president and CEO of AEG and had much of his legal work done by Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, where Steven Farber was an old friend of Morris'.
However, Morris had met Shepherd at charity and political fund-raisers and liked the guy. He liked that he was a minority lawyer on the rise, and he wanted to give the up-and-comer a try. On the heels of the convention, Morris liked that Shepherd appeared to be at the center of the action—and that he was willing to work for free. In order to get in the door with AEG, Shepherd agreed to handle some business at no charge, which is not an uncommon way for a law firm to audition for a large client. The AEG audition was this: Morris was interested in acquiring the lease on the Denver Coliseum from the city and county of Denver. A consequential side note was that Morris had struck an arrangement with Dan Scherer of CBS Outdoor that would allow the company to post signage at the venue.
Because the Coliseum is within a Superfund site, this was not a typical lease arrangement. There were potentially costly issues of liability. Complicating things was the fact that KSR represented some of the city and county of Denver's bond work. Complicating things even further were the issues between the city and CBS over the sign business. Shepherd and his firm represented all of the parties involved, which could be a conflict of interest, yet in April 2008, when Shepherd logged this business into KSR's internal "New Client/New Matter List," which requires the attorney to identify any potential conflicts or "adverse parties," he listed "None."
Almon took her concerns about this matter to senior partner Stephen D. Gurr, who was considered the firm's ethics guru. He confirmed what Almon knew: It would be permissible for Shepherd to represent all three parties if the firm obtained written waivers that clearly explained to all three parties the nature of the representation. The waivers had to be signed by all parties involved. In legalese this is called advance consent. Almon conveyed this in an e-mail to Shepherd on November 17, 2008, at 2:13 p.m. Two minutes later, she forwarded the e-mail to equity partner Brian Jumps.
About that time, Staks and Almon again noticed that Shepherd had amended his website biography. Shepherd, who, according to several sources, was hoping President Obama's administration would consider him for a position, now included in his bio on the firm's website that he served as the cochair of the transition teams for Governor Bill Ritter and Mayor John Hickenlooper. A Google search would show that Shepherd was not listed as a ranking member of those transition teams, let alone one of the people in charge of both of them.
By February 2009, Almon and Staks had made at least two senior partners—Ray Gifford and Lee Reichert—aware of their concerns. Yet Shepherd continued to operate seemingly unchecked. Likewise, when Shepherd blew up on Estabrook and Taylor, and much more recently and dramatically, fired Robin Bissantz, in February 2009, none of the senior partners took any visible action. However, on the office grapevine there was word that the senior partners were concerned about Shepherd. Rumor was that Gifford had agitated for change, and that there would be a partner meeting at which a new tone, a new world, would be introduced, wherein Shepherd and his ways would be reined in.
The meeting occurred on Wednesday, February 25, 2009, in the KSR conference room. It was a partners-only gathering—associates like Staks were not invited—and all but a very few of the senior partners were present. Shepherd took a seat next to Almon, and he was the first to address the gathering. According to sources who were at the meeting, Shepherd said it had been a tough year, but the firm was well-positioned. He talked about how the politics favored KSR, giving them an edge here and an edge there. He mentioned that new clients had come on board. Partner Brian Jumps interjected that Shepherd himself had brought in DuPont, and initiated a round of applause. Seated at the other end of the table from Almon was senior partner Fred Winocur. Shepherd and Winocur had attended law school together at Tulane University. It was Shepherd who lured Winocur to KSR from the Denver firm of Haddon, Morgan and Foreman (HMF). In the meeting, Winocur, according to the sources present for the meeting, talked about rumors that had been circulating the office, and said that moving forward, the rumors needed to stop.
Following the meeting, Shepherd, Kamlet, and a few other partners left for a dinner, and Almon told Staks what had transpired at the meeting. The two attorneys went to Staks' house and crafted the memo that, they believed, laid out the dates, details, and supporting documentation of what they had discussed formally and informally with various partners in the preceding months. Two days later, on Friday, February 27, 2009, while Shepherd was having his cake, Almon delivered the surprise memo to Ray Gifford and Brian Jumps.