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LIFE ON THE EDGE

IN QUIRKY EDGEWATER, THE CIRCUS IS ALWAYS IN TOWN.OUR TOWN IN EDGEWATER, THE JUDGE IS A CONVICTED FELON. THAT'S JUST FOR STARTERS.

Though prosecutors disputed the incompetence claim, their own psychological experts didn't paint a flattering picture of Klein. The state's psychiatrists testified that Klein was obsessive, compulsive, neurotic and sometimes depressed, but that they believed he was exaggerating a deteriorated mental condition.

A federal judge declared Klein competent to stand trial. And in September 1973 a jury found him guilty on five counts of tax evasion. A month after that he was sentenced to five years in prison, fined $10,000 and ordered to undergo ninety days of observation at a federal hospital in Missouri.

Klein stayed out of prison while he appealed his case. He also refused pleas and demands to resign his senate seat. Although his fellow state legislators made noises about ousting him, they lost their nerve. In mid-1974 Klein announced he would run for a second term. He had the misfortune of going up against popular state representative Dennis Gallagher, who won handily and has remained in the Senate ever since.

The following year, after exhausting all his appeals, Klein was ordered to report to the hospital in Springfield, Missouri. When his psychiatric observation period ended and he was about to start his prison term, U.S. District Judge Howard Bratton reduced Klein's sentence to five years' probation.

Klein survived his probation with a clean slate, but by 1981 found himself in trouble again, charged with violating election laws by forging campaign literature in a Denver City Council race. The charges were dropped on a technicality.

And Klein dropped out of sight.
During that period, Klein says now, "I worked on my illness." He was hospitalized for a time, then sought employment as a cook and volunteered to work with the elderly. He couldn't work much, and got by with the help of loans from friends and family. "I was pretty whacked out at that time," he says.

As his condition improved, however, Klein began to plan his comeback. He retook the bar exam, failing on his first try but passing the second time around in 1987. Though his license to practice had not yet been restored, well-known Denver defense attorney Leonard Chesler hired him as a law clerk and put him to work doing legal research.

When the Supreme Court Grievance Committee refused to give Klein his license back, Chesler argued his case before the entire state Supreme Court. On June 20, 1988, the court agreed to reinstate Klein to the bar.

"The supreme court said it was obvious that I had been mentally restored," says Klein. "I'm the only lawyer who's been officially declared sane."
Learning of the court's action, adds Klein, "was like being reborn. I'd been humiliated for sixteen years. Spat upon. Discredited. And in thirty seconds I was back and a human being again."

Chesler hired Klein on as a full-fledged attorney, and Klein's confidence grew to the point that he decided to have another go at public office, even though critics told him he couldn't possibly win. He proved them wrong in the fall of 1990, winning election to the board of the Regional Transportation District. Klein has become the gadfly of the transportation board--and, he says, a pain in the side to some of his colleagues. "They think I'm a cookie ball," he says.

Klein's RTD district included Edgewater, and he attended numerous city council meetings to give presentations on transit-related subjects. In the fall of 1992, during Klein's second year on the RTD board, his name surfaced as a possible candidate for judge of the Edgewater municipal court. Harold Eisenhuth held the job at that time, but reportedly had developed a tardiness problem.

"Joe McDonald was mayor at the time," recalls current council president Nelson McNulty, "and his complaint was that Eisenhuth had missed time in court a number of times. Once, he was three hours late for court, and the poor people had to sit around and wait." (Eisenhuth, who now teaches at Metro State College, did not respond to requests for an interview.)

McDonald approached Klein about taking over for Eisenhuth, whose duties consisted mainly of presiding over the court one day a week. "He was very candid," McDonald says of Klein. "He said he'd had some problems in the past."

McDonald admits he had some concerns after Klein told him about his felony conviction. But he says he reconsidered his position, in large part because Klein hadn't tried to hide his past transgressions. "I felt that with his attitude, I was real comfortable that he could do a good job."

Councilman McNulty says he too was aware of the baggage Klein would be hauling into court, but claims it didn't worry him. "Whatever he'd done, he apparently cleared it up, because they issued his license to practice law again," McNulty says. "The guy's paid his penalty, and the court seems to feel it was okay to issue his license, so who are we to say he's not capable?"

However, Mayor McDonald didn't share Klein's background with all of the councilmembers. He says he felt it wasn't necessary. "According to the home rule charter," he says, "you appoint the judge, and they [the city council] just kind of confirm him."

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