Steven Epstein, J.
To paraphrase the late Justice Potter Stewart, we know greatness when we see it. Greatness takes many forms and is sometimes judged subjectively, but characteristically includes:
• professional excellence
• respect of peers
• service to a professional community
• service to a spiritual community
• service to the country.
Judged by these standards, there is no doubt that Theodore Epstein was one of the greatest.
This article is dedicated in memoriam to Theodore Epstein, Jr., "Uncle Teddy," who passed on May 7, 2016, and who had proudly carried on the name and tradition of the family patriarch, Theodore.
The Early Years
Epstein was born on September 3, 1896, in Brooklyn, New York,
to Frederick and Elizabeth Epstein, at the family home at 149
Devision Avenue. His name was spelled as "Thiodor"
on his birth certificate.
and Frederick met in New York City after their families
emigrated to America. They married sometime around 1890.
Uniquely, for an emigre, Frederick became an agent for the
Prudential Insurance Company, a white collar job that was not
available to most foreign-born Americans. Due to
Frederick's tuberculosis, Theodore moved with his parents
and brother, Milton,
Upon graduation, Theodore enrolled in the University of Denver, taking a “law course.” He lived the life of an undergraduate in a much simpler time, which allowed for the occasional frolic in the lakes at Washington Park.3
Theodore served his country in the Navy from 1918 to 1919, stationed at Gulfport, Mississippi and other stateside bases during the war. His military service meant a great deal to him, and he was active with the Veterans of Foreign Wars the remainder of his life. Following his wartime service, Theodore returned to his studies to obtain a law degree from Westminster College of Law.
By 1920, Theodore had hung up his shingle in the downtown Symes Building at 16th and Champa. He worked there until his untimely death in 1960, at age 64, after 40 years of practice. During those years, Theodore associated with a number of attorneys. His longest and most productive partnership was with Phillip Hornbein (1879–1962). Hornbein and Epstein collaborated on many cases as they practiced together from approximately 1925 through 1950.
A Different Era; A Different Way of Being
To say the practice of law from 1920 through 1960 was different from today would be an epic understatement, given the advances since then in technology and social changes such as diversity, huge population growth, civil rights, and gender rights.
But the biggest difference is that lawyers in that earlier time, including my grandfather, often pursued justice, not just wealth. This is not to say that dedicated public servants and private practitioners who elevate justice over remuneration don’t exist today. But Ted Epstein’s practice—what he did and how he did it—was an extension of who he was as a person.
Described by his son Ron as a “Big Time New Dealer,” Ted Epstein represented many people pro bono or for reduced fees. He turned down few clients and was not above representing unpopular When Ted practiced law, the legal culture did not encourage lawyers to have a “litigation persona” separate from their true persona, a division that describes many practitioners today. Ted Epstein was free to bring his personality and values to his practice.
Florence Tesser worked with Ted as the receptionist in his office suite on the 8th floor of the Symes Building from 1951 to 1953. Florence’s one abiding recollection was that she never “knew a man that loved his wife more than he did.”4 Ted, she said, always came off as a “tough kind of guy,” but he “was really the sweetest guy . . . and, oh, how he loved his family.”
Ted was always upbeat and outgoing. His suite-mates from almost 65 years ago were George Bakke, Floyd Walpole, socialite Pierpont Fuller, Ed Schueterman, Charlie Graham, and Ray Goldin. Attorney Sonny Thorn,5 a contemporary of Ted, recalls the joviality and joy with which Ted ran his life and practice. In his office or in court, a big fat stogie was ubiquitous and sometimes even lit, a vice inherited by his son Fred.
The late Honorable Robert L. McWilliams, who served on the Colorado Supreme Court and the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, recalled Ted as being “tough as nails and smart as hell.”6
At the time, smoking and chewing tobacco were almost de rigueur, so spittoons were placed throughout the courtroom and used by janitors and jurists. But they were often unused by Ted. One of Ted’s hall of justice negotiating tactics, as relayed by several “old-timers,” was to get close to a young lawyer’s face and let the juice building up from the chewed cigar spray and splatter. Normally the young lawyer caved. Occasionally Ted may have paid the vanquished attorney’s cleaning bill.
It was an earlier time, when people could perhaps distinguish themselves more easily than today. Theodore Epstein was a big fish in the then much smaller Denver pond. As indicated by the variety of cases Theodore took to the state and national high courts, his era of practice preceded the focus on specialization in law practice. Theodore would handle a zoning case on Monday, represent the draft board on Wednesday, and defend a murder charge on Friday. Some cases that...