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.
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.
None had any idea what the charges were against Klahr, but that doesn't matter to him. He cherishes their kind words, quoting often from the transcripts.
"Basically, I consider myself one of the good guys of society," Klahr says, demonstrating his own naiveté when he notes that he's listed in Who's Who in American Law and Who's Who in America.
Modestly, he adds, "They even said they're putting me in Who's Who in the World. I wouldn't choose myself for that, frankly."
In a north central Phoenix neighborhood with lush landscaping, well-tended homes and skyrocketing prices, Gary Peter Klahr's house looks abandoned. The scant grass is dead, and the only ornament on the white house is drippings on the driveway, obviously from a paint job.
The windows are dark. Klahr doesn't answer the front door; instead he calls out from the empty carport, explaining he always uses the back door. That entrance offers a trip through the length of the house, en route to Klahr's destination, a small bedroom set up as an office.
Klahr's decorating style is decidedly casual. Just inside the back door, there's a couch and television set (two, actually, one on top of the other), the floor and all other surfaces piled high with copies of the Arizona Republic and other periodicals. A sliding glass door leads to the back, where an old wheelchair holds a full trash bag and more piles of paper. Behind it, a drained, cracking swimming pool.
The only clear space in the kitchen is the refrigerator door; there are no mementos magneted to it, just a bottle opener. The counter is packed with pill bottles. In the dining room, on the large table, an enormous mountain of paper more newspapers and magazines literally touches the chandelier. It looks like fodder for an archaeological dig; a copy of Men's Fitness jumps out as an unlikely piece of the pile. There are bookcases everywhere, worn peacock blue carpet and an old pinball machine in the corner. It, too, is covered with paper.
From the dim hallway, there's an open bedroom door with another mountain on the bed. Around the corner is a small room facing out onto the front yard. Inside are obvious attempts at neatness, although cobwebs hang from the dingy walls.
This is Joey Walker's office. He is Klahr's paralegal, and also refers to himself as the firm's manager. He manages Klahr as well, or at least tries to. The house is messy, but smells clean, thanks to Walker, who also performs other houseboy-esque tasks such as doing Klahr's laundry. Walker insists Klahr does not know how to use his own washer and dryer.
Walker does not live at Klahr's home, but he does drive Klahr's car, which, incidentally, he purchased. Rather, Klahr bought the car, but Walker negotiated the deal. Klahr has always driven a Cadillac, trading it in every two years. Since the disbarment, Walker has downsized him to a Honda.
Walker, who is 26, has worked off and on for Klahr for more than 10 years. He started out answering phones at Klahr's law office, and trained on the job as an office manager and paralegal. Now he's basically Klahr's boss, assigning him legal research. Walker works out of Klahr's house, but never meets clients here; he sets up appointments at the Starbucks on Camelback near 16th Street.
Even in Walker's office, Klahr's mess encroaches. Klahr settles in the corner, on a twin bed covered with laundry, to talk.
And talk. And talk. Klahr's nonstop, lightning-speed chatter is as infamous and off-putting as his table manners. He has a tremendous memory for numbers and history, and when he really gets on a roll Klahr cocks his head and looks off into space, like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man.
But before he discusses his past, Klahr wants to make it perfectly clear that this whole disbarment thing is a huge travesty.
"They're not just firing me from a job, they're firing me from a career," Klahr says of the State Bar of Arizona. "They weren't interested in a win-win situation, they were interested in disposing of me."
He says he was accused of turning over his practice to psychotics and criminals. "Now, if that were true, that would be serious, but anybody who knows me knows if anything I'm too hands-on. I hover over people.
"I never abdicated my practice to anyone," he says. "We have worked with a lot of criminals and psychotics, but they did not handle our clients' cases, you know, and there's no substantial evidence that they did any damage."
Most of the trouble came from those other lawyers he got to work on cases he couldn't take by himself. "These cases were turned over to them in good faith, and we tried to supervise them, and some of them simply blew [the cases] off," he says, leaning back on the unmade bed, wedged next to a John Grisham hardback, file folders spilling at his feet.
As Klahr speaks, a wad of white spittle forms on his lips, and stays. A buttonhole is bursting on his plaid, short-sleeved shirt, which, along with dark slacks, is Klahr's uniform. His shirttail always hangs out.
Klahr's watery brown eyes are sincere. He believes strongly in what he's saying; he has his entire life.
Gary Peter Klahr is the oldest of Fred and Frieda Klahr's five children, born in the South Bronx on July 9, 1942. Frieda was a teacher, Fred a produce wholesaler. There were too many people in the produce business in New York, so when Gary Peter was 5, Fred moved the family to Phoenix. Klahr is uncertain whether they arrived on a DC-5 or DC-6, but knows it was September 3, so hot he thought he'd landed in hell.
"I skipped second grade that was my first accomplishment because I was so bright, and also because the second-grade teachers didn't want me," Klahr says, chuckling.
He won the spelling bee at Longview Elementary School three out of four years.
"The one year I didn't win, you know the word I missed?" Klahr asks. "Ingenious." He spelled it like "genius."
But Klahr's real claim to fame came when he made his radio debut at 7, as the announcer for the Lew King Rangers variety show, which aired nationwide and soon made it to television as well. To this day, old-time Phoenicians still imitate Klahr, who announced King as "Woooooooooo King." Klahr quit at 11, he says, because the $3 weekly salary was inadequate. Klahr recalls that his parents didn't encourage him at all in his broadcasting career the whole thing was his idea. "I was a cheeky kid."
"Cheeky" probably isn't the word Klahr's brother Eddie would use. Eddie has nothing good to say about his eldest brother.
"I'll be honest. It wasn't easy," Eddie says of growing up with Gary Peter, who is seven years his senior. Eddie now works for the U.S. Postal Service, tagging mail bags in Phoenix.
"We just didn't get along real well. He sometimes would open his mouth at the wrong time. He can't keep secrets," Eddie says. "I think on one side of his brain, he has something lacking there, I think. I don't know, I'm not a psychiatrist. That would be my guess. I don't think he realizes."
Doesn't his brother have any redeeming qualities as a person? "To be honest, I can't think of even one," Eddie says, adding that Gary Peter has always been an embarrassment.
"He is the most complicated person I've ever known. . . . As smart as he is, he's not as smart as he thinks he is."
After three boys, the Klahrs had twin girls, Betty and Bonnie. Bonnie Dahl, who lives in Boulder, Colorado, is the only Klahr who keeps in regular contact with Gary Peter; their parents have been dead for many years.
"He was unique," Dahl says of her eldest brother; she's a decade younger. "My mother, the term she always used was that he's colorful. That's the safe term she always used."
(To be fair, Gary Peter is not the only eccentric Klahr. His brother Bruce, who is reportedly independently wealthy, lives in a home in Boulder nicknamed the Volcano House complete with a Polynesian room with a volcano fireplace, waterfalls, a fire pole, and Halloween and '60s-themed rooms. And Bonnie runs the largest head shop in Boulder, the Pipefitter. Bonnie and Betty, who lives in Denver, are married with children. None of the boys ever married.)
Dahl says Gary Peter was reading at age 2, telling time at 4. Their parents, who Dahl describes as "very mellow, easygoing people," had no idea "what they had when they had him."
"He was a very different, difficult child, I'm sure very frustrating for my mother. . . . Brilliant on one hand, but not mature on the other, which is still the case."
Dahl thinks this is due in part to the fact that Gary Peter skipped grades in school. But she's not so sure anything would have changed him.
"It's just who he is. It's just kind of how he entered the earth."
And yes, Dahl confirms, Gary Peter was always domestically challenged.
"Growing up, his room, my mother would shut his door and just leave it shut," she recalls.
Rabbi Albert Plotkin remembers Klahr's bar mitzvah well. It was his first as a rabbi. (A bar mitzvah is a coming-of-age ceremony for a Jewish 13-year-old boy.) Typically, the Bar Mitzvah Boy is sweaty and nervous, overwhelmed by the Hebrew prayers and passages he must memorize and chant. But Klahr wanted to give a sermon, as well.
"He was something else," Plotkin recalls. "He said to me, You preach every week. Why don't you rest and let me preach?'"
Plotkin agreed, but warned Klahr to keep it brief. "He said, Well, there are some things I have to get off my mind.'"
The rabbi advised the Klahrs to send Gary Peter to a program at the University of Chicago for gifted children. "Of course his parents said no; they didn't want to send him away," Plotkin recalls.
Klahr has always been too smart for the real world, the rabbi says.
Klahr recalls telling his high school newspaper he would one day succeed as a politician, businessman and lawyer. By that time, he was already a veteran of the campaign trail. His parents were New Deal Democrats, so he rebelled by affiliating with the Republicans. He started running for office in grammar school (elected vice president of his fifth-grade class) with the mixed success that has continued his whole life.
Klahr graduated from North High School in Phoenix at 15, then quickly completed his degree at Arizona State University and headed south to Tucson, where he enrolled in the University of Arizona's College of Law.
At ASU and later at UofA, Klahr fought against mandatory ROTC training. He finally won in 1966 and, long after most others in the country, Arizona's Board of Regents made ROTC voluntary.
In law school, Klahr was elected to the student senate, where he quickly made enemies, particularly with staff at the campus newspaper, the Wildcat, who published a scathing editorial in November 1963.
"Senator Gary Peter Klahr, the campus demagogue, is now hissing in another pit, we see," it began, going on to charge that Klahr was trying to "hamstring" the Wildcat by taking away its student subsidy because he didn't like the paper.
"History proves that this is a dictator's first move. Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini first killed their own press to substitute a lackey press of their own," the editorial continues, concluding of Klahr: "His ramblings and exhortations about the Wildcat and the Administration' are but a continuation of his desire to see his name bandied about as a troublemaker and a fanatic.
"Both of which he is."
And then the paper made fun of Klahr for attending ASU perhaps the biggest slap of all.
Klahr sued the paper and lost. He couldn't convince the court that he wasn't a public figure.
Bob Hirsh, one of Klahr's classmates, represented him in the suit against the Wildcat. He remembers Klahr as the youngest, smartest, quickest student, and one who "was in the center of the storm, quite regularly."
Hirsh also recalls that Klahr was often treated badly by his peers. "He was one of these guys that antagonized people. He didn't mean to, but it was his style. . . .He was the antithesis of what all these little fraternity boys and girls were."
Popular or not, Klahr had his successes, too. During his third year of law school, Klahr made what will certainly be his most lasting mark on Arizona politics. That year, he filed a lawsuit claiming that legislative districts at the time gave rural, less populous areas too much power. He won, and the "cowboy legislators," as they were called, hung him in effigy in the lobby of the Arizona State Senate. The lawsuit created the legislative district system that exists to this day.
Klahr didn't want to practice law immediately. He had an assortment of jobs in the mid-'60s running an ice cream parlor, campaigning for local political candidates, working with juveniles in Maricopa County, writing for Ev Mecham's newspapers. He was an investor in his brother Bruce's business, a head shop on Central Avenue in Phoenix called Inner Sanctum.
"We tried to do a restaurant called the Inner Sanctum drive-in, with hip burgers and peace burgers . . . but it didn't work," Klahr recalls. "The kids didn't come in and the adults didn't come in because . . . the walls were all black."
There was also a waterbed in the middle of the shop, and Klahr the news junkie had a United Press International news wire installed. Probably the only head shop in the world that had that, he figures.
"We were quite a curiosity. People would come in and catch up on sports scores."
Klahr thinks drugs should be legal, but he says he's never really partaken. Tried pot, but says he couldn't hold the smoke in his lungs long enough to get high. His sister baked him some pot brownies once, but he didn't get off on those, either, although they tasted good, he recalls.
"I've been fighting drugs all my life," he says. "Even though we had a head shop, it's not inconsistent. . . . Even at the head shop we had anti-drug literature."
Everyone told him he was wasting his talents, not taking the bar exam, so he took the test in February 1967, the same year as Sandra Ann Day (O'Connor). Day passed the test one of two women who did but Klahr's name did not appear on the list. The State Bar of Arizona refused to grade his test; his membership had been challenged.
Hirsh recalls how difficult it was for Klahr to face the humiliation that some of his peers didn't want him in their exclusive club. "His mother told me Gary just became reclusive," Hirsh says.
Klahr fought hard to get in. The case went to the Arizona Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled that while the myriad complaints against Klahr including his comment to the Arizona Republic that the practice of law is "nit picking," and the charge that he had leaked confidential information while working for the county demonstrated "poor judgment and a lack of . . . maturity," it did not "constitute a lack of good moral character."
Klahr was admitted to the bar in November 1967.
"Poor Gary," Hirsh says. "He's going through it again."
Those who celebrate Gary Peter Klahr's reputation as a lawyer remember the high-profile public interest cases he took with the ACLU. But, in reality, such work didn't come along so often, particularly in the past several years.
The truth is that Klahr's splashiest legal victories reapportionment, the ROTC ban came before he was a lawyer.
A guy's got to make a living, and when Klahr started practicing in 1967 he joined a firm that specialized in divorce law. He also did some criminal law. Eventually he opened his own small firm, branching out into personal injury cases.
Klahr recalls that from the start, he took the clients no one else would take, the "dopers," the people who didn't have much money. "We were one of the first non-gay firms to represent gays," he says, adding quickly, "I'm not gay, but I'm gay-sympathetic. It's a civil liberties issue."
He speaks proudly of the time shopping mall mogul Sam Grossman hired him to sue over a parking ticket his wife had received. Klahr lost the case, but he glows at the thought that such an important man would retain his services. It was more typical, he says, that a client would pay for his services with wrapped coins.
Almost as soon as he became a lawyer, Klahr began running for public office, and continued at every opportunity. It is dizzying to listen to him recall the year and office of each run he even remembers vote counts and depressing to hear his track record. He did serve one term on the Phoenix City Council in the early 1970s, and was ultimately instrumental in helping the city to form its charter government. And he has been elected to the Phoenix Union High School District governing board; he's currently a board member.
The school board is a good fit for Klahr, whose public interest work in the past couple of decades has focused on juveniles. One of the most famous cases involves a boy who was told he could not wear a Chicago Bulls tee shirt to school because it could show a gang affiliation. Klahr lost the first round in Maricopa County Superior Court, and then called in the big guns Brown & Bain, a large local law firm with a First Amendment specialty. Ultimately, the school district dropped the ban; Carol Burton, the boy's mother, praises Klahr for his dedication throughout the process.
Outside the legal arena, Klahr has worked closely with young men for years. Klahr's associations with the juvenile delinquents he mentors, and even some of his employees and clients, have, over the years, possibly put him in danger. He has been robbed repeatedly, the most famous incident occurring in 1985, when Klahr came home to an intruder who stole $1,000 from him and left him tied to a bathroom towel rack. The crime is still unsolved.
Over the past several months, Phoenix police have responded to repeated calls at Klahr's home regarding altercations between Klahr and Adam Tryon, who once worked for Klahr and who Klahr has had a restraining order against. Oddly, the police kept finding that Tryon was actually living on Klahr's property, even though Klahr had taken out the restraining order. In one report, taken in 1998, Klahr and Tryon got into a wrestling match in Klahr's then-office and Klahr hit Tryon on the head with his shoe.
According to another police report, Joshua Melton, who Klahr had mentored, has allegedly stolen money from Klahr. Again, Klahr blames drugs. Melton has several drug convictions, but Klahr says Melton is now clean and working hard. The two are in close touch. Melton, a clean-cut young man with dirty fingernails, came by the house recently to borrow money from Klahr. The older man recorded it in a ledger.
Melton is one of the kids who had been living at Klahr's office. One of Klahr's former employees, Vance Bradley, filed a lawsuit against Klahr in 2000. He charged that Klahr had kids "sleeping on couches, ram-shackle furniture that contained and emanated a severe odor/stench, and as part and parcel of such living/office arrangements, dogs, cats, rats, an iguana, chickens, ferrets and other such animals were allowed to roam around the office spreading feces in the everyday work areas."
Bradley also claimed that Klahr "badgered, slandered and humiliated" him and other employees, and that Klahr suggested he "engage in sexual actions," making comments about anal sex and dildos.
Klahr denied everything, and later settled with Bradley.
So why does Klahr associate with people who hurt him, who break into his house and steal his money, when all he's tried to do, he says, is help them? Klahr maintains that everyone deserves another chance.
"Where there's life, there's hope," he says.
That's the way the State Bar of Arizona should have treated him, Klahr figures, but he didn't get any breaks because he wasn't an attorney in a three-piece suit with a high-rise office.
"This is strictly an attack on the sole practitioner, unorthodox, dirty shirt lawyer," he says.
At first, talking with Gary Peter Klahr about his disbarment, it's easy to be persuaded that he's been wronged.
Without stopping for breath, Klahr argues that "The Bar" violated the Americans With Disabilities Act by holding hearings without him present (he says he couldn't bear to hear people lie about him, because of his heart condition) and contends that he was "convicted" of things not already mentioned in pleadings, like drug use among his staff.
Even though Klahr will give you chapter and verse on individual Bar officials like Leonard Copple, the Tempe City Councilman who graduated a year after Klahr from UofA and, as the hearing officer in Klahr's Bar proceedings, recommended disbarment really, Klahr pits himself against the entire professional organization.
The Bar, at this point, is The Enemy.
"They convicted me of charges not made. That's a good sound bite you might want to use: Klahr charges he was convicted of charges not made,'" he says, just warming up. "It's kind of like the jury coming back and saying we find O.J. innocent of murdering his wife, but we find him guilty of killing John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln."
Even Klahr estimates he's probably had more bar complaints against him than any other lawyer in Arizona. He says he had more than 300 in 34 years. Bar officials have only kept track since the end of 1996. Since then, Klahr has had 46, which, incidentally, is not a record, but certainly a significant number.
Another of Klahr's arguments against his disbarment is that people have complained about his services for decades, but The Bar had always tossed out the complaints, until now. (That's not quite true; there had been some disciplinary actions taken, and Klahr had already completed a management training program at The Bar's behest when the disbarment was recommended.)
Klahr also says that The Bar has never disbarred anyone for management problems, and compares himself to former president Jimmy Carter a micromanager, if anything.
"They said he abdicated his practice to psychotics and criminals. I never abdicated my practice to anybody," he says.
He contends that others should be punished for what happened in his office. What about the lawyers he passed cases on to? And what, he asks, about the client who actually admitted that he signed a contract in disappearing ink, to avoid payment? Why isn't he being prosecuted for obstruction of justice just like in Watergate?
And Klahr accuses The Bar of missing deadlines to file paperwork with the Arizona Supreme Court. "And yet they accused me . . . of breaking rules. Can you believe that?"
But that's just at first. It's not hard to see how The Bar was likely frustrated by Klahr's attempts to represent himself in the disbarment proceedings. He admits in pleadings that he's under treatment for manic depression, and some of the comments he filed sounded that way. He refers to Ralph Adams, The Bar's attorney, as "a crooked lawyer, dangerous to the public," and in another instance, in reference to a procedural move, says he "shot his wad."
In one memo Klahr gave to New Times, which details "three major lies or false findings" of The Bar, he writes:
Number 3: "That Klahr has his staff strong arm' poor clients into paying money they can't afford. This MAY refer to a time when we used a large Native American man (GORDON LEWIS) to help collect money due. In the ofc, because of his size, we JOKED about him breaking legs like the Mafia but no such instructions were given and no such actions occurred by him or anyone else."
In any case, all of Klahr's arguments against his disbarment are meaningless when he admits, in essence, that he is guilty of at least many of the charges. Yes, he handed off cases to other attorneys, and didn't follow up. He blames those attorneys whom he says should be disciplined themselves for not following up with him, and blames the clients for the same. Ultimately, however, The Bar rules are clear: If you are the lead attorney on the case, you are responsible.
But should Klahr have been disbarred for such behavior? Are the character witnesses a mitigating factor, or his public service?
Steve Friedman has practiced law for 36 years, and for the past 20 he's volunteered for the State Bar of Arizona as a hearing and settlement officer. He served as a settlement officer in Klahr's case.
Friedman calls Klahr and his case "absolutely unique." He points out the window of his downtown Phoenix office toward Central Avenue, remembering where Klahr's head shop once stood. He says he's never heard as many complaints in a single disbarment proceeding as he did in this one.
The settlement officer is just a mediator, and Friedman recalls discussing the possibility of a strict plan that would allow Klahr to practice law without any management responsibilities. Friedman recalls that Klahr was very amenable, and it looked as though The Bar would agree; ultimately, however, officials went ahead with disbarment proceedings.
Friedman doesn't fault The Bar. "One of the earliest things you learn . . . is that [law] is a profession to which we're devoted, but it's also a business," he says, adding that Klahr had "terrible management skills, terrible choices of people" to work in his offices.
The Arizona Supreme Court didn't even want to hear arguments in the case. The court unanimously booted Klahr.
Justice Thomas Zlaket, who has since retired, declared a conflict. Klahr figures that's because Zlaket was involved in protesting Klahr's admission to the bar 35 years ago. Klahr says it's because he told people Zlaket cheated on a test in law school by going overtime. He says Zlaket explained, at the time, that he was wearing earplugs. Zlaket was mad at Klahr for blabbing. The former justice did not return calls from New Times.
All agree that disbarment is about the worst thing that can happen to an attorney. Matt Silverman, spokesman for the State Bar of Arizona, calls it "the professional death penalty."
"Disbarring an attorney is almost like dishonorable discharge from the military. It sounds so dirty and horrible," Klahr says.
But was there any other choice?
Even those closest to Klahr don't rush to his defense. Of his four siblings, the only one he keeps in touch with is Bonnie Dahl, the head shop owner in Boulder. Klahr visits her for three or four days every August; it's his only vacation, although Dahl says he always spends the whole time on the phone with his office.
"I haven't lived in Phoenix in 27 years, so really, as far as the disbarment goes, I can't fairly judge what's come down or whatever, and I know that it's very upsetting to him, of course, but again, we only get his version, so I don't know the other side, in all fairness," Dahl says.
And Kathleen Masters, the attorney who has taken over Klahr's practice an old friend and colleague who says she loves the guy, who says at most he's guilty of being disorganized squirms when asked if she agrees with the decision.
"To tell you the truth," she says, "I'm glad I wasn't a member of the disciplinary committee because I don't know what I would have done."
Gary Peter Klahr's phone is ringing. In a society where even bad name ID is good, potential clients still find him. Hard to guess how, since his office phone has been disconnected for months.
(The firm is still operating as Gary Peter Klahr P.C., Masters confirms. Perhaps not for long The Bar says that's illegal, even if Klahr is not a shareholder.)
Klahr rushes to the kitchen in his stocking feet to answer the phone.
Sometime in the past week, Joey Walker has managed to find the surface of the dining room table. Ten laundry baskets packed with old newspapers and magazines are stacked next to it. The kitchen counter is piled higher than ever, and the garbage can overflows with Hot Pockets and Domino's boxes.
Walker also found time to get away from Klahr long enough to share his own feelings about what has happened. He is absolutely furious with The Bar.
"Basically, they're going to murder him and get away with it. That's what they're doing. They're slowly killing Gary Peter Klahr," he says.
Walker describes his former boss now Klahr works for him, in effect as "a rough guy, but deep inside, he's got a heart." He adds, "Gary could probably be a doctor. That's how smart he is."
But not smart enough to know not to represent himself before The Bar, Walker concedes. And, yes, disorganized. Very disorganized.
Walker, for one, intends to stick by Klahr.
"I like to say that I think I'm a people person," Walker says, so he's a good complement to Klahr. Plus, he adds, "I like to organize stuff."
"I tell him, I put this basket here for your school board stuff. I don't want to see it on the couch, I don't want to see it on the table. I want it in the basket. . . . When I see it on the couch, I'm like, What is that?'"
Back in the kitchen, Klahr is consulting on the phone with a potential client about a bankruptcy case. He dutifully announces that he will have to pass the call to Walker, who will assign the case to a lawyer. These days, Klahr is spending most of his time preparing a brief in his second disbarment proceeding. Again, more charges stemming from mismanagement; the hearing officer has already recommended disbarment. This is not a man with a lot of hobbies. Klahr says he likes miniature golf and bowling, and his current favorite books are Robert Caro's volumes on Lyndon Johnson, but really, all Klahr wants to do is work.
"JOOOOOOOEEEEEEEEY!" Klahr bellows, clutching the cordless phone in one hand, pulling his pants up with the other, and running down the hall to Walker's office. His voice trails off as he rounds the corner, explains the call to Joey and heads back to the dining room.
There's a loud, muffled bang, and Klahr emerges, rubbing his forehead.
"Wow! Believe it or not, I just bumped into a wall," he says, sitting down.
"Let's see, where were we?"
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