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LIFE ON THE EDGE

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Klein told the grievance committee that he refused to turn over the files because he had a professional lien against the client. The client still owed him money, he said. As proof, he produced carbon copies of letters he had supposedly written demanding payment.

When a documents expert asserted Klein had falsified the billings, the attorney general's office accused him of manufacturing evidence and giving false testimony under oath. In September 1972 the Colorado Supreme Court suspended Klein from the practice of law "for at least three years." Even though it was one of the toughest actions ever taken against a lawyer by the court at the time, Klein could consider himself lucky--some Supreme Court justices had originally favored disbarment.

Matters continued to deteriorate for Klein. The client who'd gotten the ball rolling on his suspension began claiming that Klein had offered him a bribe to drop his accusations. Then Klein missed the entire 1973 session of the state legislature due--he said--to mental illness. In April of that year he was indicted on federal charges of income-tax evasion. Klein sought to avoid a trial by claiming he was mentally unstable and unable to assist in his defense. His attorneys brought forward psychiatrists who testified that the senator was "a textbook example of a chronic paranoid schizophrenic."

Though prosecutors disputed the incompetence claim, their own psychological experts didn't paint a flattering picture of Klein. The state's psychiatrists testified that Klein was obsessive, compulsive, neurotic and sometimes depressed, but that they believed he was exaggerating a deteriorated mental condition.

A federal judge declared Klein competent to stand trial. And in September 1973 a jury found him guilty on five counts of tax evasion. A month after that he was sentenced to five years in prison, fined $10,000 and ordered to undergo ninety days of observation at a federal hospital in Missouri.

Klein stayed out of prison while he appealed his case. He also refused pleas and demands to resign his senate seat. Although his fellow state legislators made noises about ousting him, they lost their nerve. In mid-1974 Klein announced he would run for a second term. He had the misfortune of going up against popular state representative Dennis Gallagher, who won handily and has remained in the Senate ever since.

The following year, after exhausting all his appeals, Klein was ordered to report to the hospital in Springfield, Missouri. When his psychiatric observation period ended and he was about to start his prison term, U.S. District Judge Howard Bratton reduced Klein's sentence to five years' probation.

Klein survived his probation with a clean slate, but by 1981 found himself in trouble again, charged with violating election laws by forging campaign literature in a Denver City Council race. The charges were dropped on a technicality.

And Klein dropped out of sight.
During that period, Klein says now, "I worked on my illness." He was hospitalized for a time, then sought employment as a cook and volunteered to work with the elderly. He couldn't work much, and got by with the help of loans from friends and family. "I was pretty whacked out at that time," he says.

As his condition improved, however, Klein began to plan his comeback. He retook the bar exam, failing on his first try but passing the second time around in 1987. Though his license to practice had not yet been restored, well-known Denver defense attorney Leonard Chesler hired him as a law clerk and put him to work doing legal research.

When the Supreme Court Grievance Committee refused to give Klein his license back, Chesler argued his case before the entire state Supreme Court. On June 20, 1988, the court agreed to reinstate Klein to the bar.

"The supreme court said it was obvious that I had been mentally restored," says Klein. "I'm the only lawyer who's been officially declared sane."
Learning of the court's action, adds Klein, "was like being reborn. I'd been humiliated for sixteen years. Spat upon. Discredited. And in thirty seconds I was back and a human being again."

Chesler hired Klein on as a full-fledged attorney, and Klein's confidence grew to the point that he decided to have another go at public office, even though critics told him he couldn't possibly win. He proved them wrong in the fall of 1990, winning election to the board of the Regional Transportation District. Klein has become the gadfly of the transportation board--and, he says, a pain in the side to some of his colleagues. "They think I'm a cookie ball," he says.

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Karen Bowers