Trial by Ire

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

Indeed, an almost epic quality surrounds what Morrissey and others say was typically Silverman's less-than-finest hour: the annual office picnic and flag football game. It was then, they say, that his combative personality was put on full display. "In my memory, Silverman was the only individual to receive consecutive unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties for actions directed toward his own teammates," recalls Heckenbach. "And this is in a friendly, family football game."

Morrissey remembers being in huddles with Silverman where the self-appointed field general spent so much time screaming at receivers who'd run the wrong patterns that the team ran out of time to call a play. It was primarily owing to Silverman's antics, he says, that the annual pigskin contest was discontinued. "He had a tendency to be bitten by a dog at almost every one of these picnics," adds Morrissey, who recalls an incident where a fuming Silverman lit out in hot pursuit of a secretary's dog after the animal nipped him on the leg. "Dogs tend to bite the man. Maybe all the yelling and everything makes them nervous."

The tales of his gridiron exploits--and similar stories concerning bully-boy behavior in the Denver Bar Association basketball league--are dismissed by Silverman as fabrications generated by the Ritter camp. "It's a consistent theme of their campaign to try to portray me as a hothead," he says. "I am competitive, but I never lose my composure." That claim is echoed by Jeffrey Springer, a former president of the Colorado criminal defense bar who says that in fifteen years of playing basketball against Silverman, he's never seen the man lose control or take a cheap shot. Assistant DA Elizabeth Silva, who worked three murder trials with Silverman, calls Cooie Kenyon a "very sensitive person" and says she never saw Silverman get abusive. However, offices and sports facilities aren't the only playing fields where Silverman stands accused of showing a mean streak.

For instance, in his campaign resume, Silverman cites the fact that his prosecution of Denver nightclub bouncers Todd and Vincent Ciccarelli for brutally beating a man at a local bar was beamed across the country on Court TV. He doesn't trumpet the fact that the judge in that case blasted Silverman and Todd Ciccarelli's defense attorney, Don Lozow, for "trying the case in the gutter from the opening bell" and engaging in "the worst mudslinging between counsel in the court's history."

A highly unusual post-trial motion filed by Vincent Ciccarelli's defense attorney detailed the scene inside the courtroom. "Both attorneys continually maligned one another verbally and made facial and body gestures toward one another in the jury's presence," wrote J. Terry Wiggins, a former assistant U.S. attorney. At one recess, Wiggins claimed, "the two attorneys squared off as if they were about to engage in mutual combat."

Silverman has denied any impropriety in the Ciccarelli case. And while he may have crossed swords with office dogs during DA football games, he enjoys the support of at least two canines. While Ritter's campaign brochure pictures the candidate with his wife, Jeannie, and their four children, Silverman's features a photo of him and wife Trish with their two "wonderful and talented eight-year-old dogs." It then goes on to give their names and provide brief biographical sketches. Eddie Freddie Teddie, a mutt, was adopted from the Denver Dumb Friends League. Moses, a miniature poodle, was found "abandoned in the reeds near Denver's Bible Park."

A principal challenge for Ritter has been competing with the sheer force of Silverman's personality. A quiet man who openly admits that the "political part of this for me is not a walk in the park," Ritter has been forced against his will into a contest turned by Silverman into a political carpet-bombing campaign. The incumbent admits to being frustrated by how much time he's spent picking up Silverman's shrapnel rather than pushing his own agenda, which includes a new "community prosecution" program and an effort to improve support services to rape victims. An exasperated tone creeps into Ritter's voice when he discusses Silverman's claim that his pro-life views can't help but color his performance as DA. "I think the only good answer to that charge is that it's absurd," says Ritter, who adds that he's hired 23 entry-level lawyers since taking office and suspects "there may not be a single pro-lifer among them."

But aside from thumping Silverman for the prosecutorial misconduct cases, Ritter has largely refused to go on the attack. For example, his campaign has stayed away from an incident that occurred last year when Silverman, on the way home from a late-night poker game at the home of Denver defense attorney Harvey Steinberg and driving a radio-dispatched city car, was injured in a traffic accident at the intersection of Evans and Monaco. The city car was totaled, and a police officer responding to the scene ticketed Silverman for running a red light. But after Silverman obtained affidavits from witnesses and the other driver failed to show up in court, he was cleared of wrongdoing.

Democratic insiders worry privately that Ritter simply d oesn't know how to respond to the Silverman blitzkrieg. Having been knocked back on its heels, they say, the Ritter campaign has never regained its balance. "Bill's never had a real campaign," says one Democratic elected official who asks not to be identified. "It looks more like amateur hour than the kind of race I'd expect."

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