JUDGMENT DAY

DENVER ATTORNEY DAVID L. SMITH HAS MADE LIFE A LIVING HELL FOR HIS ADVERSARIES. NOW HE'S FEELING THE HEAT HIMSELF.OUT OF ORDER DAVID L. SMITH SAYS COLORADO'S FEDERAL JUDGES ARE OUT TO GET HIM. HE'S RIGHT.

Figa also charged that Smith is caught in an "unconstitutional `Catch-22' dilemma." Smith cannot practice law until he pays the fines, Figa argued to the court, but can't earn money to pay them unless he is allowed to practice.

Though Smith's wife is a partner at Ballard, Spahr--a nationally prominent law firm based in Philadelphia--the couple keep their assets "strictly separate," according to affidavits filed with the U.S. Supreme Court. Julia Hook says Smith has asked her for a loan to pay off the sanctions but says she declined as "a matter of principle" because she believes the fines were "erroneously" ordered by the courts.

"If I thought for a moment they were justified, I would pay them," Hook says. "They are not. I have looked at this closely over a long period of time. With reluctance I have concluded that what's going on here is that the judges in the federal district court have decided to drive David out of practice."

Smith says questions about his assets are at the center of one of the grievances filed against him by another attorney, who has alleged that Smith transferred his ownership interest in his house to his wife last year to escape payment of the sanctions. Smith says that complaint, like the other formal complaints against him, is an attempt to use the bar's grievance machinery to "gain an advantage in the underlying case."

James H. Joy, executive director of the ACLU of Colorado, says Smith should not be penalized merely for appealing his fines. He says the ACLU may enter the fray on Smith's behalf if the Supreme Court agrees to hear Smith's case.

"I have no knowledge or opinion of the original sanctions," Joy says. "But it does seem to me that basic fair play allows you to pursue your appeal if you feel you've been wronged by the lower court. That's the whole basis of our system."

Figa says he has reviewed the case files in Dunkin, DeHerrera and at least two other cases in which Smith has been sanctioned by a judge, and he doesn't believe Smith's behavior was objectionable. "I've found it to be strong advocacy, zealous advocacy--but not disrespectful of the courts," he says. "He's always been respectful and polite and recognizes his place within the system. He's not a wildman."

Figa admits he is "not optimistic" about getting the Supreme Court to take up Smith's appeal. "We're hopeful," he says. "But realistically, the Supreme Court takes a very tiny percentage of the cases brought to its attention."

Smith, meanwhile, remains convinced that there is an "ideological conspiracy" against him at work between corporate defense lawyers and the federal judges in Denver, many of whom, he says, are "to the right of Attila the Hun" and politically hostile to plaintiffs in civil-rights cases.

His downfall, he says, would bode ill for all the other civil-rights lawyers in town. "They have ruined me financially, they have destroyed my reputation and they have knocked out an advocate of civil rights in the federal courts," Smith says. But "I'm pretty stubborn. I will beat my head against the wall on this a little while longer.

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