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.
VIII. SHEPHERD MUST GO
In less than two hours, Gifford was seated at a table in a room at the Lakewood Country Club, where Jumps was a member. The gathering was comprised of equity partners. In addition to Jumps and Gifford, the group of KSR attorneys included Reichert, Kamlet, and others. According to one of the attorneys present for the gathering, Stephen D. Gurr was teleconferenced in, and Winocur arrived later. The discussion was heated. The majority of those in attendance were of the mind that Shepherd had to go, and some conveyed that it was either him or them. Whatever delay there was in achieving quorum was caused at least in part by Jay Kamlet. Shepherd was far more than Kamlet's fellow founding partner. He considered Shepherd an adopted brother, and in Kamlet's world such a bond was sacrosanct.
Before KSR, Kamlet was a partner at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck (BHFS), and Shepherd was a lawyer with Patton Boggs, a Washington, D.C.-based firm with an office in Denver. Both were in their 30s. Kamlet handled real estate and leasing matters; Shepherd focused on environmental and land-use law. Thanks to ties to Mayor Wellington Webb's administration, Shepherd had developed a strong book of business. And Kamlet: His pedigree in Denver was platinum. He was much more than a typical partner at BHFS.
Although "Kamlet" was not a name on that firm's door, the family loomed large in the history of the formidable practice. If it weren't for Kamlet's family, it's likely that BHFS would not exist. When Norman Brownstein was a boy, his mother moved with young Norm to west Denver. They settled there because it was home to the National Jewish Hospital at Denver, the entity that would become National Jewish Health. Mrs. Brownstein found medical care, and she and her son discovered an extended family in Denver's Jewish community. It was in west Denver that a fifth-grade Norm befriended schoolmate Steve Farber. In 1957, when Norm was about 13, his mom died from breast cancer, and the Kamlet family, Stan and his wife, took Norm into their home, raising him as if he were one of their own. Jay Kamlet, Norm's "little brother," wasn't born until 1963, just as Norm and his childhood pal, Steve, were on their way to the University of Colorado and law school. In 1968, when Brownstein, Farber, and a law school friend, Jack Hyatt, launched their own firm, Jay's mom—Brownstein's surrogate mom—was more than the firm's first secretary; she was the chief founding den mother. It was Mrs. Kamlet who literally held the straws that the partners drew to determine the order of names as they would appear in the firm's moniker.
When Kamlet decided to follow his big brother into law, he did so with Brownstein's support. Likewise, after Kamlet had worked a few years with a D.C. firm and asked to join his big brother's operation, he was welcomed as a partner. For years, Kamlet watched as his big brother and Farber emerged as Denver power brokers, schmoozing, donating, strategizing—harnessing the confluence of politics, business, and law—and ultimately profiting. As Kamlet put it to Farber in 1999, when the young partner informed Farber he was leaving the mother ship, he and Shepherd believed they could become the next Brownstein and Farber.
The idea of forcing Shepherd out of the firm they'd built couldn't have been easy for Kamlet. And that afternoon at the country club it only got more difficult, more dramatic. A call was placed to Shepherd, and he arrived around 4 p.m. As the partners informed him of the memo, according to a lawyer who was present, Shepherd quickly sensed where the conversation was going and said, "You want me to go." Shepherd vacillated between fury and sobs. There was a discussion about how to handle Shepherd's departure. An understanding was struck: Shepherd would voluntarily leave, and he would manage whatever press there would be about his departure. Shepherd would assist the firm, which would rechristen itself Kamlet Reichert LLP (KR), with doing whatever was necessary to rectify whatever needed to be rectified.
Shortly after the Lakewood meeting adjourned, Shepherd's former firm made two moves. A representative of the practice called Fred Winocur's old employer, Haddon, Morgan and Foreman P.C., and hired the firm to assist KR in reacting to the memo. One of the senior partners instructed an administrator to not only cancel Shepherd's access card to the firm's suite, but also to stop elevator access to the offices for everyone except employees. Kamlet, and some of the partners were concerned, according to a firm administrator, that Shepherd might attempt to return to the office, and if that were to happen, feared what he might do. Another benefit to cutting off elevator access was that no one at the office would need to worry about a reporter arriving with questions.
Shepherd and his former firm kept the situation quiet for the next two and a half months. On May 12, 2009, the Denver Post published an article headlined: "Willie Shepherd leaving Kamlet Shepherd & Reichert." There was no explanation why Shepherd was leaving the firm he'd cofounded, no mention of where he'd be going next. Nine months after the convention, there wasn't the slightest hint of a bigger or better move. The article quoted two sources: Shepherd said he was "looking forward to the future and to helping serve Denver and Colorado." On behalf of Shepherd's former firm, Reichert said, "We are thankful for the leadership that Willie has provided to the firm since its inception and wish him well as he moves forward."
The next day, the Denver Business Journal reported that Shepherd was joining the law firm of Perkins Coie as a partner. A managing partner of Perkins Coie was quoted as saying that, "having an attorney of Willie Shepherd's caliber reflects our strength as an expanding national law firm." Then, on May 16, news broke that Perkins Coie had rescinded its offer. In a statement, the firm said that Shepherd's "offer was subject to a number of conditions, some of which could not be satisfied." Embedded in the head-scratching news was the statement that the managing partners of Kamlet Reichert declined to comment on reports of a "complaint pending against Shepherd" before an entity called the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel.