Issue: January 2013
Tags: Tom Clark, Teri Ripetto, Susan Barnes-Gelt, Robert White, Nora Pykkonen, Michael Hancock, Masai Ujiri, Karin Sheldon, Jonathan Vaughters, Jim Schanel, Jim Deters, Harvey Steinberg, Dede de Percin, David Wineland, Daniel Junge, Christopher Hill, Charles Burrell, Alan Salazar
Ever wish you could ask the mayor about urban development, or a battalion chief about fighting the Waldo Canyon fire, or a Nobel Prize winner about the nature of reality? In our first-ever Interview Issue, we asked 18 of the city’s brightest, most outspoken leaders and personalities those questions, and many more. Turn the page to hear them speak out—in their own words.
The 59-year-old defense attorney to the stars sounds off on high-profile cases, the key to success, and how luck plays into courtroom drama. Interview by Robert Sanchez
Both of your parents are Holocaust survivors?
They were the only survivors of both their families. I suppose it is my rock. They met in New York after they both had come from Europe. My father’s brother and sister and his parents were killed in Buchenwald, a concentration camp in Germany. All of my mother’s family was murdered in Auschwitz, in Poland.
Did they pass their experiences on to you?
Very rarely was it ever discussed. When they wanted to talk about it, I was obviously very interested. They did inculcate in me healthy disrespect for authority, which I think has driven me to the position I am in. That’s probably why I do what I do.
Why did you pick law?
I would always get in trouble. There was always a check mark on my report card: “Talks too much.” So, law was the only field where I could do anything where you get to talk and not get into trouble.
You started your career as a deputy district attorney in Arapahoe County.
They were the only ones who’d hire me. I started with DUIs and ended up doing murder cases.
Then you moved into defense. When did you become the attorney for the stars?
You get a couple of high-profile cases and everyone thinks you’re the attorney for the stars. I’ve had a couple of high-profile cases and, let me tell you, I know I was lucky. I’ve won some cases, but there’s a lot of being in the right place at the right time. I tell people, “If you just live long enough, good things will happen to you.” The key to success is staying alive.
You’ve been representing Denver Broncos players for years, but one of the really big cases came in 2001 when you defended Bill Romanowski and his wife on prescription drug charges.
A friendly person in the detective bureau came to me and said, “Hey, you should know this.” The lead detective had a picture of Romanowski on his desk, and it had words to the effect of, “We’re going to get this guy.” Juries don’t like that because they expect the government and the police to treat people fairly. It wasn’t until I got to cross-examine that detective that the prosecution knew about it. That detective got caught off guard, and his credibility was destroyed.
It’s all about reasonable doubt, right?
A trial is a test to determine whether or not the government can prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. I don’t have to prove innocence. When you go to trial, they never say he was found innocent. He’s found not guilty.
You’ve defended many Broncos players in cases of assaults on women. You also have a teenage daughter.
She yells at me. She criticizes me for some of the cases I take. What I try to tell her is, look, this is about the system, and the system demands that everyone accused of a crime has the best possible defense. It’s not so much about the person who is on trial; the system is on trial. And for the system to work, it has to have the best possible checks and balances. If there are no checks and balances, then the system suffers.
Do you care that some people might think what you do isn’t very savory?
I tell my kids the measure of maturity is when you don’t care what people think. You’re mature when you’re confident in your decisions. I’ve been told that’s the wrong way to feel, but that’s how I feel. I’m sure I’ve made a lot of enemies in this business.
In 2012, former Broncos cornerback Perrish Cox was acquitted of sexually assaulting an intoxicated woman who wound up aborting his child. How did you manage that win?
I’m wise enough to understand there’s luck involved in that. The accuser and her friend were together, and I cross-examined the friend. I made a big deal that they were extremely intoxicated. One of the jurors submitted the following question: “Are you drunk now? Or on drugs now?” That was a good sign. I’ll never forget that, because that’s never happened to me in my life.
Cox was facing a life sentence.
On Friday, the guy is looking at going to prison for life. On Monday, he’s signing a deal to play in the National Football League. Only in America.