Senator Hank Brown's selection of Greeley attorney Walker Miller to fill a federal judgeship in Denver won't surprise those who know that the men's personal relationship extends back to their college days in 1957. But the senator may well owe Miller more than just a debt of friendship.
Miller was also Brown's personal attorney and represented Brown's son Harry in a civil suit when the younger Brown was accused of a drunken assault on a University of Northern Colorado student in 1990. It was no run-of-the-mill tort suit. Unusually vicious and personal court documents reveal an astounding twenty-month exchange in which both Walker Miller and the attorney for the plaintiff, Richard Blundell, accused each other, their clients and Senator Brown (who was just entering his first term) of everything from personal vendettas to harassment.
On July 14, 1990, James Breitzman, a UNC student, claimed that Harry Brown (then a college student in Ohio) and two friends accosted him on the street, called him a "longhair" and then "belted" him until he recited the Pledge of Allegiance to their satisfaction. According to an account in Roll Call, a Washington, D.C., newspaper, "Brown and Co. allegedly hit Breitzman again after he failed to hold his hand over his heart when he began the pledge, then hit him another time when he put his left hand over his heart." Breitzman filed his complaint of misdemeanor assault on July 17, but Greeley police reportedly waited two full months to officially charge the senator's eldest son.
In December of that year, Harry Brown pleaded "no contest" to a reduced charge of harassment and received a deferred sentence and assessed court costs of $250. The judge also ordered Brown to undergo evaluation to determine if he needed alcohol-abuse treatment.
But even before the sentence, Breitzman had filed suit in civil court, charging Harry Brown with assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, outrageous conduct and civil conspiracy. Brown, represented by Miller, denied all the charges. Breitzman's attorney, Richard Blundell, originally filed the suit in Boulder County. Miller challenged the venue. Blundell countered, arguing that Breitzman couldn't get a fair trial in the Greeley area considering Hank Brown had been a powerful fixture in the small town for more than a decade. A Boulder County judge didn't agree. The case was transferred to Judge Robert Behrman of Weld County.
Interrogatories and depositions ensued, which in turn spawned a flock of objections. Blundell sent a letter to Miller charging him with deliberately being evasive. "In accordance with CRCP 121, please be advised that we require responses, rather than cover-up attempts, to our interrogatories," he wrote in the brief missive.
Miller and Brown engaged in their own bomb-throwing, filing a counterclaim charging Breitzman with deceit, false representation, fraudulent concealment, and negligent misrepresentation. The counterclaim came after Miller discovered that Breitzman--who was contending that Brown seriously injured his shoulder during the assault--had sustained a shoulder injury two years earlier. While deposing Breitzman, Miller repeatedly asked the youth to admit that he told his attorney, Blundell, about the previous injury (thus making Blundell party to the alleged deceit). Blundell refused to let Breitzman answer, claiming Miller was attempting to violate attorney-client privilege. Motions to compel and responses followed. The judge sided with Blundell.
From there, the tone of the lawsuit quickly degenerated. Walker Miller returned to the venue issue--four months after the change was granted--with a motion for Breitzman to pay all attorneys' fees and costs associated with his (and Blundell's) efforts to keep the trial in Boulder. Blundell responded to the motion, calling it "outrageously nebulous" and "no more than round two of a personal attack" upon him "by Senator Brown and his longtime friend and personal attorney."
Miller responded by charging (again, in official court documents) that Blundell's filing was "nothing but vituperative clamor" and accused Blundell of having a vendetta against Senator Brown. "It's difficult to reply to Plaintiff's emotional response," Miller wrote. "What little substance it contains is lost in bile and venomous diatribes against [Hank Brown] and [myself]."
Blundell filed a response to Miller's response to his response to Miller's motion--and attached a sworn affidavit that he did not have a vendetta against Brown or Miller. Miller responded to the now exponentially expanding responses.
Judge Behrman was not impressed. Miller's motion was denied.
During the course of pretrial activity, Blundell managed to depose not just Harry Brown, but also his father and his mother, repeatedly asking the senator and his wife if Harry exhibited a "pattern of conduct" of "aggressiveness toward others following his intake of alcohol." In spite of everything, the parties reached what court papers called an "amicable settlement" in August 1992. When contacted by Westword about the case, Senator Brown released a copy of a letter that he says Breitzman signed in July 1992 "to acknowledge that Harry Brown did not beat, strike, hit, belt, smack, slug or otherwise physically assault" him.
Breitzman, however, insists that Harry Brown did hit him. He says he signed the statement because at the time, he was "scared and just gave up. Miller was vicious, and we were outclassed." Blundell, who still practices law out of his Greeley office, won't address questions about the statement Breitzman signed, but he does say he isn't at all disturbed that the attorney who attacked him six years ago is going to be a federal judge.
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"He'll be better than three federal judges that are already there," Blundell says bitterly. "We have disgraceful federal judges right now--Walker Miller can only improve it, despite what he said about me."
Senator Brown responds only in writing to Westword's questions about whether he thinks his choice of Miller for the judgeship, in light of the civil trial, causes at least an appearance of impropriety. "Mr. Miller is exceptionally well-qualified," Brown writes. "That is, and should be, the basis for a confirmation vote."
Miller himself refuses to comment on the case, saying only, "That case was settled, and it was part of the agreement that we wouldn't discuss it." He denies any appearance of impropriety and displays sympathy for the younger Brown. "I'd also express to you that it's too bad that it continues to come up for young Harry," he says, "but I guess that's what you get when you're a senator's son."
Miller has already been asked to withdraw from the nominating process by the immediate past president of the Colorado Bar Association, Frances Koncilja--who has concerns about Miller's cozy relationship with Senator Brown, as well as his lack of federal trial experience. Despite the hoopla, Miller has already been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, on which Hank Brown sits and Miller's own son serves as a staff member. A vote of the full Senate on the Miller nomination is expected within the next few weeks.