WATCH THE HOFFMAN POWERPOINT PRESENTATION: This slide show was prepared by his firm for an event before his death.
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Source: Hogan & Hartson
By Matt Masich, LAW WEEK COLORADO
DENVER — Even though legendary Colorado trial lawyer Daniel S. Hoffman had already done more than most people could hope to accomplish in several lifetimes, he continued to take on new projects with undiminished vigor until his death Sept. 1 at age 78.
Hoffman had “more energy than you usually see from people in their 20s and 30s,” said Bob Troyer, chair of the litigation department at Hogan & Hartson, where Hoffman had been of counsel since 2006.
“He was still taking the lead and trying cases. He did a big multi-week trial earlier this year.”
At a recent trial in Denver District Court, Judge Christina Habas – a former law student of Hoffman’s from his time as dean of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law – said she was impressed that he was trying cases at his age.
“He made a comment back to the court that he fully expected to continue trying cases in that courthouse until he was 100 years old,” Troyer added.
Hoffman, in addition to being a renowned trial lawyer, was a teacher and mentor. In the weeks before he suffered a stroke on Aug. 4, he was developing a high-level trial seminar for spring semester at DU, as well as a project to teach middle school students about his experience in the civil rights movement. In his time as DU’s law dean and beyond, Hoffman mentored innumerable lawyers.
“There are thousands of people in the practice of law in whom Dan took a deep personal and professional interest and helped along the way,” Troyer said.
Among those people is Dan Dunn of Holme Roberts & Owen.
“He was my mentor, and he was my good friend,” said Dunn, a partner at the firm. “I learned a tremendous amount about being a lawyer from him.”
Hoffman joined HRO after leaving as dean in 1984 and was there for more than a decade, often working closely with Dunn. One of Hoffman’s traits as a trial lawyer that stuck with Dunn most was his ability to “make everyone his best friend – from jurors to judges to opposing to counsel, and even opposing parties … There are a lot of lawyers out there who vigorously represent their clients and end up alienating the other side who they are attempting to persuade. He was simply able to appeal to people’s better side and as a result accomplish more than most can for the clients.”
Carving a wide swath
Hoffman was born in New York City but moved to Colorado to attend the University of Colorado. He got his law degree from DU.
His first prominent job was as Denver’s manager of public safety in 1963, when he was 32 years-old.
“There had just been a Denver Police Department corruption scandal, and Hoffman was an unusual choice because he was so young and didn’t have a law enforcement background,” Troyer said.
Hoffman quickly realized that having the excise and licensing office — which regulates liquor licenses, among other things — controlled by the police department invited corruption. At his recommendation, the office was separated from law enforcement.
Later in the 1960s, Hoffman became heavily involved in progressive politics. In 1965, he led a group from Colorado on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s march from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery, Ala. Hoffman was Colorado director for Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign and was among the protesters at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
In the 1970s, Hoffman was co-owner of the American Basketball Association’s Denver Rockets, later the Denver Nuggets. He helped negotiate the merger of that league with the National Basketball Association in 1976, working across the table from young NBA lawyer David Stern, now the league’s commissioner. As a memento of his work on the merger, Hoffman was given a souvenir basketball – half ABA red, white and blue, half NBA tan leather – that he proudly displayed in his office.
Hoffman’s most highly publicized case was in 1994, when he successfully represented singer Michael Jackson against a Denver woman’s claims that he stole one of her songs. Hoffman remembered the experience when interviewed after Jackson’s death.
“When you come to court, please dress conservatively, I’m begging you,” Hoffman told The Denver Post’s Penny Parker. “[Jackson] showed up in one red sock, one white sock and an admiral’s uniform. I think, in his mind, that was conservative.”
If it’s Friday, it must be jazz
Friends and colleagues have a hard time pinpointing what they will miss most about Hoffman.
“He had a genuine excitement about what he did and it was contagious,” Dunn said. “It was fun to practice with him – it was just a lot of fun.”
Troyer recalled Hoffman’s love of jazz.
“He was always playing jazz music wherever he was, and as the week progressed at the office, each successive day of the week the music would get louder and louder until you knew it was Friday afternoon because you could hear the jazz music from the opposite end of the building.”
That was on Fridays that Hoffman was not working from his home office – a castle-like sanctuary connected to his house.
“It’s something that almost looks like a turret, with a spiral staircase that looks medieval, and he’s got this office with big wrap-around windows, with a desk built in that almost wraps around the whole wall,” Troyer said.
But it is Hoffman’s genuine affection for and concern for other people that was most remarkable to his friends.
“He treated the CEO and the janitor the same,” Dunn said “He was able to relate to people from all segments of society and treated all of them with dignity and respect.”
“I think what made him one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met – personally and professionally as a trial lawyer – was that he had a degree of curiosity about people and about life that is unparalleled,” Troyer said. “Even at age 78, he was curious about new experiences.”
Hoffman is survived by his wife of 55 years, Beverly Swanson Hoffman; three daughters, Lisa Ciancio, Tracy Cockriel and Robin Black and their families, including five grandchildren; sisters Enid Bayer and Irene Rosi; and brothers Charlie Ostrov, Ron Hoffman and Tony Hoffman.
At Law Week Colorado’s press deadline the Hoffman family had not announced formal funeral arrangements. A public memorial is scheduled for Sept. 14 at 1 p.m. at DU’s Newman Center for the Performing Arts.