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LIFE ON THE EDGE

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Klein's RTD district included Edgewater, and he attended numerous city council meetings to give presentations on transit-related subjects. In the fall of 1992, during Klein's second year on the RTD board, his name surfaced as a possible candidate for judge of the Edgewater municipal court. Harold Eisenhuth held the job at that time, but reportedly had developed a tardiness problem.

"Joe McDonald was mayor at the time," recalls current council president Nelson McNulty, "and his complaint was that Eisenhuth had missed time in court a number of times. Once, he was three hours late for court, and the poor people had to sit around and wait." (Eisenhuth, who now teaches at Metro State College, did not respond to requests for an interview.)

McDonald approached Klein about taking over for Eisenhuth, whose duties consisted mainly of presiding over the court one day a week. "He was very candid," McDonald says of Klein. "He said he'd had some problems in the past."

McDonald admits he had some concerns after Klein told him about his felony conviction. But he says he reconsidered his position, in large part because Klein hadn't tried to hide his past transgressions. "I felt that with his attitude, I was real comfortable that he could do a good job."

Councilman McNulty says he too was aware of the baggage Klein would be hauling into court, but claims it didn't worry him. "Whatever he'd done, he apparently cleared it up, because they issued his license to practice law again," McNulty says. "The guy's paid his penalty, and the court seems to feel it was okay to issue his license, so who are we to say he's not capable?"

However, Mayor McDonald didn't share Klein's background with all of the councilmembers. He says he felt it wasn't necessary. "According to the home rule charter," he says, "you appoint the judge, and they [the city council] just kind of confirm him."

The council confirmed Klein's appointment in a unanimous vote, says former councilman Dale Rickstrew, who adds that he had "no idea" that Klein was a convicted felon until being contacted by Westword. "I certainly would have had some second thoughts and questions about the ratification," he says. "I certainly would have wanted to know more before voting."

Grace Young now is trying to make sure that all the councilmembers are aware of the judge's background and of the stiff sentence he gave her son. But she is not the first person to complain publicly about Klein's sentencing habits. Last fall Myke Johnson and her daughter Julie Rodriguez, two first-time offenders who were found guilty of shoplifting a $7.50 can of paint (Johnson also was convicted of interfering with a police officer), were slapped with almost $1,000 in fines and court costs. The women, who testified that they'd been roughed up by Edgewater police officers before their arrest, are appealing their convictions on numerous grounds.

Among other things, they say in their appeal brief, Klein allowed jury deliberations "to take place in plain view of five to ten police officers milling around directly outside the windows of the jury room." The uniformed officers' "revelry," says the brief, was fully visible to jurors--a fact made clear to Klein, who "failed to provide the jurors with a private and secure place to deliberate."

Klein says he can't comment because the case is on appeal. Pfeuffer, who has only thirteen officers on his entire force, says he believes that only he and one other policeman attended the trial, the first jury trial the city had had in two years. However, Johnson and Rodriguez's version of events is supported by former city councilwoman and Edgewater Tribune editor Doni Brune, who was present at the trial.

Pfeuffer signed on as the chief in Edgewater in March 1991, having left a job as chief of police in the Western Slope town of Rangely. His resume reveals a solid background in forensics, and stresses his drug enforcement training. What the council might not have realized when they hired him, however, is that Pfeuffer also considers himself "an agent of change and a risk-taker."

One of the first things the chief did when he hit town was assess his department's needs. He quickly determined that his officers needed raises, and that the department needed more cops and newer equipment. "I'm here to do the best job for the city, and I do it jealously and protectively," Pfeuffer says today.

Five months later, just before the council was slated to vote on Pfeuffer's request for a $170,000 boost in his 1992 budget, half his force came forward and threatened to quit unless they received a pay raise and the department was given funding for three more officers. If the council didn't come across with the money, Pfeuffer said, he'd have to put a stop to the town's anti-gang and anti-drug programs.

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Karen Bowers