Disorder in the Court

Judge John Kane has seen too many casualties in the War on Drugs. Now he demands a government retreat.

The King Soopers at 33rd and Dahlia was a frequent target of the picketers. "They were taking their day-old stuff and putting it out there," says Kane. "The only blacks they were hiring they would put in stores in the black community, and they weren't promoting any of them. The original pickets were saying 'Stop sending your old products here. We want the same products offered anywhere. Stop hiring only for here. We want equal hiring and promotion.' King Soopers would call the police, and they would come and arrest these people for picketing on public property and trespassing."

The young lawyer would then go to court to challenge the arrests. He was startled to discover the protestors really didn't want to get out of jail.

"Most of our clients were really angry with us because we got them acquitted. It was the Gandhian approach of you get arrested and drop down and play dead. Make them haul your ass away -- nonviolent resistance. The idea of being able to go to jail protesting was good, but we kept getting them acquitted. There was some tension there."

Judge John Kane
Anthony Camera
Judge John Kane
John Kane celebrates at the old Lafitte's Restaurant prior to his 1967 Peace Corps departure.
John Kane celebrates at the old Lafitte's Restaurant prior to his 1967 Peace Corps departure.

In 1963, Kane and Andrews went to the March on Washington together. After hearing Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous speech, they went on to New York for a meeting of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and met some of the most famous civil-rights leaders, including Roy Wilkins and Jack Greenberg.

Up to that time, Kane says he had never heard the term "liberal." In the '40s and '50s, people had either supported the New Deal government programs or opposed them, but the liberal/conservative labels weren't widely used. Kane and Andrews had chosen to fly to Washington because they had been working on a legal case right up to the last minute, but when they returned to Denver, they discovered some people didn't approve of their mode of transport.

"That was the first time I had ever heard about liberals," he recalls. "People had gone to the March on Washington on church buses; they would fill them up and play guitars and sing. They'd stay at churches and in school gyms. When we got back, we heard a couple of people had said, 'Andrews and Kane aren't real liberals, because they flew rather than take the bus.' At that particular point, I said, 'Well, there's an orthodoxy to liberalism that makes it too restrictive for my views.'"

Nonetheless, he remained an active member of the Democratic Party. Kane was also involved in setting up the public-defender program in Adams County, one of the first such programs in the state. After three years of legal defense work, he felt burned out and was looking for a new challenge. Married now with four young children, he thought it would be exciting to take his family to live abroad.

A friend in Washington suggested he look into a new government agency called the Peace Corps.

"At that time, I had this totally naive notion that if you joined the Peace Corps, they'd give you a plane ticket and a knapsack," says Kane. "I said, 'I can't volunteer -- I have four kids.' He said, 'They have a staff, you dumbass. It's a government program.'"

His first assignment was as a Peace Corps deputy director in Calcutta, India. However, he soon came down with dengue fever, and after recovering, he was transferred to Turkey.

Returning to Denver in 1969, Kane worked with a group of water-rights attornies who didn't like having to make arguments in court and asked him to take over that part of their practice. He caught the eye of Peter Holme, of Holme, Roberts & Owen, long one of the city's top-flight legal firms. Holme asked Kane to join the firm, and he stayed for seven years. When former federal judge Alfred Arraj retired, Colorado senators Gary Hart and Floyd Haskell put Kane's name on a list of nominees for the position. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, gave him a lifetime appointment to the federal court.

Kane's personal charm had earned him a wide network of boosters. Gregarious and witty, "Buddy" Kane often wears a red bow tie and is known for his fondness for gourmet food and a shot of whiskey.

His large desk in the federal building contains photographs of his wife, Stephanie, a former attorney who has established a successful career writing mystery novels. Her latest book, Quiet Time, is a psychological thriller about murder within a seemingly all-American family. His office is also home to his collection of a dozen owls -- his favorite animal -- and includes ceramic, metal, cartoon and stuffed versions.

Professionally, Kane is popular with attorneys in town and is respected as one of the more reflective and fair federal judges. "He's one of the most decent human beings I know," says Michael Canges, a local attorney and longtime friend. "He has a real empathy for other people."

The judge is also known for taking a broad view of the law and its impact on society. While other federal judges might shrug and say they're just doing their jobs, Kane worries about whether or not the public respects the legal system.

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