Trial by Ire

The candidates in the Denver's DA's race refuse to come to order.

"I think that's one of the major things that attracts me to a DA like Silverman," says Steve Curtis. "All a victim ever wants is the most aggressive prosecutor possible."

Curtis speaks from personal experience. He was shot in the head in his Bonnie Brae home in 1989 by Kevin Fears, who killed Curtis's two roommates during the same attack. The murder plot was particularly odious because it was hatched by a prison inmate, Roger Young, who wanted to silence Curtis's roommate Frank Magnuson, scheduled to testify against him at an upcoming trial. Young sent his brother Joe and Fears to murder Magnuson; they wound up killing Daniel Smith as well and thought they had finished off Curtis, who played dead.

Curtis was angered by then-DA Early's decision to plea bargain with Joe and Roger Young and by what he perceived as the justice system's pronounced slant against victims. He became politically active following the trial and is now the Denver County chairman of the Republican Party--and an enthusiastic Silverman backer. "I really don't have a beef with Bill Ritter," says Curtis. But he says Silverman, with whom he served on the PUNCH board, has impressed him as someone willing to go to the mat for victims.

Silverman also has been endorsed by Christina Hollar, the Capitol Hill woman who was savagely beaten and witnessed her husband's murder during a 1993 attack. Ritter's decision not to seek the death penalty for the two men convicted in the attack didn't sit well with Hollar, who showed up at a press conference to back his opponent. Silverman was initially battered in the press for "taking advantage" of Hollar's personal tragedy. But that criticism boomeranged when victim's-rights groups assailed Silverman's critics for suggesting that crime victims can't think for themselves.

Another well-known victim volunteering for Silverman is Venice Justice, who in 1979 endured a horrific crime at her home near Stapleton Airport. Justice and her daughter were attacked by a knife-wielding man, who raped them and then killed the daughter. Justice was stabbed herself, but she survived after escaping to a neighbor's house.

After the attack, Justice went to work as a volunteer with the city's victim-assistance program. Later she accepted a paying job with the district attorney's office and was present when Ritter and Silverman were sworn in as assistant DAs. Justice left the office last year after a dispute with one of Ritter's supervisors. Today she has a Silverman yard sign in her front lawn and has persuaded several of her neighbors along Pontiac Street to do the same. "What I appreciate most about Craig is, he wanted to make sure every criminal paid, and paid dearly, for the crime they committed," says Justice. "I understand when Craig goes into court and wants to get the most that he can get. Nine times out of ten, they're going to reduce it anyway, so you might as well ask for a hundred years."

During her time at the DA's office, Justice says, she was also struck by Ritter's and Silverman's radically divergent personalities. "Bill is a people person," she says. "He smiles, he's always got something nice to say. Craig, I guess you'd say, is the exact opposite." According to Justice, Silverman's aloof nature and distaste for chitchat rubbed many of his co-workers the wrong way. "Some of the people at the office thought Craig was a snob, and he's not," she insists.

"Snob," however, is among the nicer names Silverman has been called inside the DA's building on West Colfax, where he once proudly displayed on his office wall a mangled tennis racket smashed by an irate opponent. "The most people Craig Silverman ever supervised in this office was five people, and usually two or three people were so mad at him they could hardly stand to work with him," recalls Morrissey.

The Denver DA's office essentially operates as one of the largest law firms in Colorado, with an office staff of 150 people, sixty of whom are lawyers. Its prosecutors try cases in district court, county court and juvenile court that run the gamut of all the criminal behavior the state's largest city has to offer. Perhaps even more than a knowledge of the law, the job requires an ability to read people. Dale Tooley had it and was revered. Norm Early didn't--and paid for it the hard way when a running feud with a single disgruntled secretary made his last months in office a living hell.

If a popularity poll were taken of the current staff, Ritter would win in a landslide. Nearly all of the office's chief deputies are supporting their boss in his re-election bid, despite Silverman's attempt to lobby the crew with an August 14 fundraising letter that doubled as a reassurance that, "contrary to circulated reports, I do not intend any complete housecleaning when I am elected."

Ritter has made personal relationships with staffers a priority during his tenure; at a "luncheon on spirituality" last March at the Holy Ghost Catholic Church, he even told an audience that forming meaningful relationships with fellow workers is as important as pursuing professional accomplishments. Silverman, however, thrived in an office where he traditionally had few defenders. It wasn't unusual for the single-minded prosecutor to reduce staffers to tears with his blunt criticisms and insensitive remarks, says Cooie Kenyon, who resigned her job as a victim's advocate last February after a run-in with Silverman. "He just loses it and starts screaming."

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