By Don Knox and Matt Masich, LAW WEEK COLORADO
DENVER — One of Denver’s top criminal-defense lawyers, Robert T. McAllister, has agreed to be disbarred after acknowledging he twice intentionally converted client funds.
The news surprised and saddened other Denver criminal-defense lawyers, who spoke glowingly of McAllister’s skill in the courtroom. McAllister, 61, said he has since repaid the clients.
Two of McAllister’s biggest cases came in the early 1990s: the acquittal of David Mandarich, president of Richmond Homes, on charges of making fraudulent campaign contributions, and his representation of Dewi Sukarno, former first lady of Indonesia, on charges stemming from a socialite spat in Aspen. McAllister also was among the lawyers defending clients in the U.S. government’s criminal prosecution stemming from allegations of wrongdoing at the Rocky Flats bomb-making plant in suburban Denver.
Other McAllister clients have included Peter Kiewit Sons and OEA. McAllister recently represented a north Idaho lawyer accused of plotting to kill his wife; the lawyer, Edgar Steele, was convicted.
McAllister was a federal prosecutor in Denver and in Illinois in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Reached by telephone this afternoon, McAllister said of his disbarment, “I’m devastated by it, I have to admit that I’m in violation.”
He was not represented by a lawyer in proceedings with the Colorado Supreme Court’s Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel, documents show. Not fighting the case was “the right thing to do,” McAllister said.
The stipulation and other materials are posted below.
A series of bad real estate deals precipitated McAllister’s transgression. Knowing what he knows now, he would not have made the mistake, he said. McAllister “absolutely” hopes to return to the practice of law after an eight-year timeout, at the conclusion of which he is allowed to apply for reinstatement.
A good friend, criminal defense attorney Hal Haddon of Denver firm Haddon Morgan & Foreman, said McAllister “was doing some good work again. But he was mired in a bunch of real estate deals when the market went south in 2008. That just overwhelmed him. It’s an enormously sad story. He’s accepted full responsibility for what happened. I know he’s close to making it whole.”
Another well-known Denver criminal defense attorney, Larry Pozner of litigation firm Reilly Pozner, said, “Bob McAllister was one of the most talented charismatic and innovative criminal defense lawyers I ever met. He was beautiful to watch in court, he was funny, he was kind, he had a good word to say for everyone.”
Pozner continued: “This is both a shock and a loss. Sitting around a table with Bob in a team meeting or being in a courtroom with him, you sent him up as the first person at the podium. He was a powerhouse. I was tremendously saddened by this unexpected news.”
Former Colorado U.S. Attorney Bob Miller, McAllister’s former boss, said of the news, “He was one of the most talented courtroom lawyers I’ve seen. It’s a tragedy. We’re hopeful he can bounce back and be as good as he once was. That’s my view of the world and of him.” Miller heads the Denver office of Perkins Coie.
Isaacson Rosenbaum’s Gary Lozow, another top criminal-defense attorney, said of McAllister, “When he was focused and in the moment, there weren’t any better than him. It saddens me.”
Lozow called McAllister “the consummate battler.” Asked why McAllister would stipulate to disbarment, without fighting it, Lozow said, “He must have thought it was in the public’s best interest and his clients’ best interest to do it this way.”
According to a stipulation filed with the court, McAllister acknowledged receiving $105,255.43 of client funds without permission or while the money was restricted by court order: $100,000 was held in the name of McAllister client Terry Vickery and had been frozen by a court order; $5,255.43 was a check payable to MNT Enterprises that the recipient had decided against cashing; McAllister asked the check writer, an insurer, to reissue the check in his name.
“Pursuant to ABA Standard 4.1, disbarment is generally appropriate when a lawyer knowingly converts client property and causes injury or potential injury to a client,” McAllister and the attorney regulation counsel’s office stipulated.
McAllister’s disbarment will become effective next month.
McAllister was with the U.S. Department of Justice from 1976 through 1983 for the Districts of Colorado and the Northern District of Illinois, according to one online biography.