By Ali McNally, STATE BILL COLORADO
DENVER — Ever hear of the man who narrowly escaped the Holocaust, studied art, engineered for a space program and then decided to go to law school and became an appellate judge for 15 years?
Former Colorado Court of Appeals Judge Peter Ney did. He’s lived that life, and he also wrote a book, “Getting Here: From a Seat on a Train to a Seat on a Bench.” A book signing will be 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Tattered Cover in Lower Downtown. Ney will also talk about his experiences and sign books Jan. 7 at the Littleton Museum.
The “jack of all trades” said the book has a patriotic theme based on how America allowed him to successfully make his many career changes.
“I’ve always appreciated how I could always follow my own views. I didn’t start out as a lawyer. I started out as a designer. When the space program started, I was an engineer and then took classes to be a lawyer at night,” he said.
Ney said he got the idea for the book when his family persuaded him to write his memoirs after he retired as a full-time judge in 2003.
“They wanted to have a history of my life because I had so many interesting twists and turns in it,” he said. “The family kept saying, ‘Let’s write it down so we have it.’”
Those memoirs spanned 70 years back to his first memories as a child in Germany just a few days before his seventh birthday.
“Those are my earliest memories. Just before I was 7, the apartment where I lived with my parents was destroyed during Kristallnacht,” he said.
Two months later, Ney said, his father put him in a rescue project known as Kindertransport, which rushed Jewish children on a train from Nazi-occupied countries to England before the war started. Ney’s parents found a sponsor and were able to join him a few months later. He was among the small percentage of children whose families survived.
A year later, Ney’s family arrived in the United States, and he was able to go to college to study art. He moved to Denver in 1960 to work for the aerospace division at the Martin Company [now Lockheed Martin] as a human engineer (“We didn’t design human beings,” Ney clarified. “We designed equipment so that it could be operated by human beings.”)
It was then he decided to be a lawyer.
“I’ve always been interested in law,” he said. “I thought it was a general enough profession that I would be able to maintain my interests. I ended up with a very interesting practice, which was half in criminal defense work and the other half personal injury and domestic relations.”
Ed Kahn, special counsel for the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, said he did some pro bono work with Ney for the ACLU, fighting on behalf of university students expelled for protesting the Vietnam War.
“It was always a pleasure to work with him,” he recalled. “The fact that he’d done other things as a lawyer meant that he was mature in the level of his practice. He had a lot of experience.”
Ney said his book reflects how fortunate he feels to have been able to make so many career changes.
“In most western democracies, you can’t just say one day, ‘Well I’m going to be a designer. Gee, the space program sounds interesting. Now I want to become a lawyer.’ There isn’t that much flexibility in most countries,” he said. “I would just follow my muse wherever it took me and I never paid a great penalty for that. The U.S. is set up for that.”