Old Glory

Veteran Phoenix lawyer Gary Peter Klahr fought The Bar and The Bar won

Gary Peter Klahr is eating.

He grabs half a tuna melt in both hands and mows through it like a hamster, then shovels hash browns onto his fork with his fingers. Food falls out of his mouth as he talks, and by the end of the meal, Klahr's cheeks and chin are dotted with potato.

Thank God they're out of creamy coleslaw.

Kevin Scanlon
Phoenix City Councilman Gary Peter Klahr, circa 1974.
Phoenix City Councilman Gary Peter Klahr, circa 1974.

Since the 1950s, Klahr has been one of the Valley's most iconoclastic characters — child radio star, head-shop owner, perennial political candidate, civil liberties lawyer — and people here pass around tales of his poor table manners the way they serve up stories of John McCain's temper tantrums. Women pulling tablecloths over their evening gowns at fancy political banquets to avoid Klahr's spray. Crusty rolls gobbled like wood in a buzz saw. Menus at lunch meetings changed from steaming lasagna to cold cuts, specifically because Klahr was to be in attendance. When Klahr was on the Phoenix City Council in the 1970s, the story goes, they stopped serving meals at council meetings altogether.

While his colleagues in the legal profession are mainly of the button-down, Arizona Club variety, Gary Peter Klahr has always been a Denny's kind of guy — a genius, most agree, but completely devoid of all social grace. Along with a big mouth and unorthodox politics, that's a dangerous combination, one that threatened Klahr's legal career before it even began.

Now, 35 years later, Klahr's legal career is over. On May 1, the Arizona Supreme Court disbarred Klahr, stripping a guy who has never married or even dated of the love of his life — the law.

Klahr has never had patience with earthy concerns. He's too busy saving the world. His collection of causes is a potpourri, many concerning civil liberties: He's fought against the ROTC, for the rights of students to wear what they want to school, and he took on the Glendale Police Department for searching kids without cause. Before he was even a lawyer, Klahr won his most significant victory, forcing reapportionment of legislative districts in Arizona. He's got his name on a U.S. Supreme Court decision to prove it.

He also mentors young boys. Klahr estimates he's helped more than 100 juvenile delinquents over the years, many in court and some beyond, allowing a few to live in the back of his office, a shabby, converted house on West McDowell Road in Phoenix. Klahr read someplace that taking care of animals is good therapy for troubled kids, so he created a zoo at the office; the mice, rats and gecko thrived, but the dogs ate the geese and ducks.

In this setting, Klahr ran his law practice with a motley crew of people willing to work in unconventional quarters for a disheveled, roly-poly man who talks constantly and screams a lot — both at them and at clients, down-and-out clients who saw Klahr's ads and came to the relatively low-priced sole practitioner for help with a DUI or a bankruptcy. Klahr was busy, and couldn't find an associate, so he farmed many cases out to other attorneys in town, keeping some of the profits.

It's in this management chaos that Klahr's current troubles are rooted. The disbarment proceedings against Klahr took 10 months, resulting in thousands of pages of documents. It's tough to boil down, but generally speaking, the disbarment is based on several complaints involving mismanagement. The State Bar of Arizona says Klahr abdicated responsibility for overseeing his staff and contract lawyers, which resulted in harm to clients, both monetarily and with regard to their legal representation. Klahr complains bitterly that he was treated unfairly, but even officials from the Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union declined to take up his cause, saying they could see no evidence that Klahr did not receive due process during the proceedings.

Disbarment has got to be rough on any lawyer, and rougher still on a guy who graduated first in his law school class. Worse yet, Klahr can't fight the decision the way he knows best — using the law. The Arizona Supreme Court rejected his request for a hearing, and Klahr knows the U.S. Supreme Court has a record of leaving such decisions in the hands of the states.

And so Klahr closed up his office, moved his law books and legal files to his house, and signed on, in effect, as a paralegal at his own law firm; an attorney who used to contract with him took over the practice. Klahr gets an hourly rate to do research. The rules of the bar will allow him to reapply in five years, but Klahr will be 60 this month, and his health isn't great; he had a heart bypass a few years ago.

So it is unlikely that Gary Peter Klahr will ever practice law in the state of Arizona again, and while that could possibly be a good thing for his potential clients, it is sad for Klahr, because the law has always been his best hope of garnering the respect and attention he craves. Klahr talks endlessly about the long list of impressive character witnesses who testified on his behalf before the bar, including Superior Court judges, former Phoenix mayor Terry Goddard, prominent attorney Paul Eckstein, and even the guy who's now the president of the State Bar of Arizona, Ernie Calderon.

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5 comments
motherhemp420
motherhemp420

I grew up in Phx...and fondly remember Mr. Klahr.  It was the time of the ever expanding "War on Drugs" and the Liquid Giraffe with Christine Bohling.  I never had dealings with Mr. Klahr but always knew the Hippies in PHX had a friend in Mr. Klahr fighting the craziness of "the war on drugs" and civil rights.  Thank you so much...If you don't know now, I'll tell you...You are loved just for being you...you gave all of us hope.  Peace to you GPK...

Michael Bragg Flanagan
Michael Bragg Flanagan

I was once the defendant in a civil action pleaded by Mr. Klahr. It took time out of a busy life, cost me in attorney fees although the proceedings were thrown out for lack of even basically establishing anything like wrongdoing, "I agreed to pay mine if he paid his" simply because I wouldn't have missed that day in court for the world! Can't speak for my counsel... or the befuddled Judge. The man can expound. Lawyers say if you have evidence pound the evidence, absent evidence pound the table!" Mr. Klahr didn't even need a table! I also wouldn't have missed the pretrial settlement "wunch" with Mr. Klahr... I simply could not eat a thing it was so... enuf, I personally will regret Arizona not having a Gary Peter Klahr to kick around! He was an institution unto himself no doubt! And... there may be some Dracula left in him... like Yogi said, "It ain't over til it's over!" Michael Bragg

Chamberbrains@yahoo.com
Chamberbrains@yahoo.com

Gary Klahr is in ill condition at the moment and those who have a bitterness in thier mouth need be silenced for you do not know the man who has had open arms for those in need dispite is sociable skills he was very carring and warm hearted in many ways tho different he was by all means no creep nor was he dihonest to any of you his manors were just and his services were well served and for those who deny these facts or rebuke the truth uttering false accusations let the shame fall apond every work you yourselfs do

Former Prep Employee
Former Prep Employee

I met GPK back in the mid-90's when he was representing 2 students at the Phoenix Preparatory Academy in their suit against the mandatory school uniform. I was a member of staff and was incensed that this creep obtained my personal home address and contacted all of us by letter TWICE in an attempt to encourage us to be insubordinate and undermine the implementation of the School Uniform Policy and Dress Code. Turns out that he lost both students' cases AND the appeal and the uniform policy went on to be extremely successful.

Alexandra
Alexandra

I have know Gary from the 1886,... he was alway one of hte best to know.. I was looking for him.. need to get a hold of him,thanksAlexandra Seals/ Tell him Roger Rudman was my x partner he will remember.. I think best wishes to him

 
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