Five of the Greatest: Robert T. Kingsley (1912–1994)

Robert “Bob” Kingsley was a “lawyer’s trial lawyer.” When judges or fellow attorneys were faced with difficult criminal or civil cases, they frequently called on Bob for help. And help he did, usually with success.

Early Years and Family

Born on December 12, 1912 (12/12/12) in Colorado Springs, Robert T. Kingsley was the descendant of Welsh coalminers. In his early years, his family moved to Chicago, where he attended the prestigious Chicago Latin School. He later received his undergraduate degree at the University of Colorado and his law degree from the University of Denver School of Law, where he had been elected to membership in the Phi Delta Phi International Honor Society.

A Distinguished Legal Career

After admission to the Colorado bar in 1936, Bob Kingsley worked as a Denver prosecutor and later gained prominence as a trial lawyer. In 1969, he was appointed to the Denver District Court bench to replace Robert W. Steel. He later served that court as Chief Judge (1972 to 1976) and thereafter remained on the bench until 1984. His legal career spanned some 43 years—nearly 28 years in private practice and 15 years on the bench. He passed away in 1994.          

Life as a Lawyer

In 1941, Kingsley was appointed deputy district attorney in the Denver DA’s office. His legal career was interrupted when he enlisted in the Army in 1943. Returning from military service, he joined the Denver law firm of Dickerson, Morrissey and Zarlengo, a preeminent criminal and civil trial firm. After a number of years with that firm, Kingsley partnered with Charles D. “Jim” Bromley to form Bromley & Kingsley.

It should be noted that Kingsley’s partner, Jim Bromley, had been General Douglas MacArthur’s adjutant during the World War II. Bromley’s personally handwritten draft of his crafted rules and regulations of the U.S. occupation of Japan following the Japanese surrender was scrawled on a yellow legal pad. That historical document was last seen by this author in Bromley’s bottom desk drawer under the last pair of shoes that he had replaced. Bromley was also well-known for his constant smoking (cigarettes, in those days), and his once having thrown his cigarette-lit flaming trash can out of his window onto Broadway below.

Kingsley undertook many of the more difficult criminal and civil cases. In the years before the establishment of the public de­fender system in Colorado in the early 1960s, judges on the local state and federal benches repeatedly appointed Kingsley to represent defendants in criminal cases—many notorious. His clients in­cluded accused murderers, police burglars, and sex crime offenders, none of whom went to the electric chair.

One such client was Frank Archina, an Italian immigrant who had been accused of murdering several family members. Archina was convicted at his first trial and sentenced to death. After remand by the Colorado Supreme Court, Kingsley was appointed to de­fend Archina. Archina’s life was spared and he was deported to Italy. One of Kingsley’s favorite quotes from the Archina Supreme Court decision was Justice Hall’s observation, in commenting on one of the trial judge’s ruling, “‘If I didn’t let [the exhibits] in this morning, I won’t let them in this afternoon’ has the virtue of consistency but the vice of being erroneous.”1 

In another instance, Kingsley had been appointed to represent a defendant charged with hiring a man who murdered his wife. When Kingsley visited his new client in jail, the client went on and on about how pleased he was to have Kingsley appointed as his lawyer because he had heard so much about him and knew that Kingsley was the lawyer who would certainly get him off. Later, however, the client became disgruntled over Kingsley’s advice and proposed trial strategy and asked that Kingsley be removed.

When Kingsley visited him in jail to tell him about his withdrawal, the client remarked, “Well, I lied to you when we first met because I had never heard about you before your appointment as my lawyer.” Kingsley snapped back: “Well that makes us about even—I had never heard about you before you had your wife murdered!”

Practicing in the Majestic

Understanding Bob Kingsley requires taking into account the environment in which he practiced law. For many years, that was in the Majestic Building located at the corner of 16th Street and Cleveland Place in downtown Denver, a long block from the courthouse. That building housed a large number of fine trial lawyers, who were distinguished from the corporate “silk stocking” lawyers who dominated 17th Street.

Kingsley’s colleagues in the Majestic Building included a number of prominent law firms and lawyers. Among them were Winner, Berge, Martin & Clark (Winner went on to the federal bench, Martin to Denver District Court, and Clark to head a local office of a large national firm); Zarlengo, Zarlengo, Seavy and Mulligan (Seavy later became a district court judge for the 5th Judicial District); Bob Bogdanowitz, a prominent divorce lawyer; Art Schwartz, esteemed First Amendment lawyer who has enjoyed a national reputation; Flowers & McKevitt (Flowers also became a Denver District Court judge and Mike McKevitt represented Colorado in the U.S. House of Representatives); Dan Hoffman, a noted trial lawyer and later dean of the University of Denver School of Law; Sunshine & Reed (Hal Reed went on to Denver District Court and then to the Colorado Court of Appeals; Sunshine went to prison); and Teller Ammons, former Colorado governor who was also the son of an earlier Colorado governor.

Uncle Sam hit the jackpot when ­aluminum for defense was ­salvaged from 23 pinball machines destroyed by staff of Denver District Attorney James T. Burke (1941–48) and police. The officials (including Deputy District Attorney Bob Kingsley, far right) joyfully and ­vigorously attacked the slot machines with sledgehammers at the city dump near East First Avenue and St. Paul Street. Approximately 50 pounds of aluminum were yielded for the government and one nickel for the staff.
Photo credit: Denver Post Historical Collection (Scan #10033821), History Colorado.


Pro Bono and Defense Strategy

Although Kingsley appeared stern and somewhat gruff, he was actually soft-hearted. For example, when a lawyer down the hall, Robert Sunshine, was charged with embezzlement, Kingsley immediately recognized that Sunshine needed a defense. He volunteered, and worked out a plea agreement that resulted in a prison term. However, Kingsley arranged to have Sunshine serve his sentence for the Colorado crime in a federal penitentiary at El Paso, Texas, because of threats made against Sunshine by Las Vegas mobsters.2 At about the same time, Kingsley also rescued this author, a refugee from the Sunshine law firm demise, and became my mentor and lifelong friend.

While watching Sputnik in amazement from his patio one evening, Kingsley developed a theory for the successful defense of a client charged with a criminal violation of the Trading With the Enemy Act.3 His defense: put the government’s regulations on trial—regulations that attempted to criminalize the purchase of antiques and works of art fashioned by Chinese artisans, regardless of where or when they were made—Kingsley’s successful notion of jury nullification! It also didn’t hurt that the government’s key ex­pert witness, the director of the Freer Art Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution, was a close friend of the defendant. When federal prosecutor Richard “Dick” Spriggs (also a former Denver District Court judge) discovered that friendship, his jaw dropped in shock!

Negative: Positive

To his discredit, Kingsley simply sat motionless at counsel table when, during a sanity trial, the defendant poured a pitcher of water over his co-counsel’s (my) head. One benefit, however, was that the newspaper account of that bath prompted a phone call from a young lady that eventually led to his co-counsel’s long and happy marriage to the lady caller.

Court Demeanor

E. Michael Canges, who had tried a number of cases in Judge Kingsley’s court, described Kingsley as a no-nonsense judge who was somewhat “scrutable.” According to Canges, if a witness’s testimony or an attorney’s argument seemed questionable, the judge found it difficult not to indicate his skepticism through his body language.

Sound Advice

One unusual bit of advice that Kingsley gave to this author, as well as to other young lawyers (including federal judge John L. Kane, Jr.), was to always read the case before and the case after the case in question. Kingsley be­lieved that process was key to broadening one’s legal knowledge. Of course, that advice was before Westlaw replaced hardcover case research.

Kingsley was also an advocate of trial-watching. That too was in times past—before billable hours gained prominence.

An Understated Life

In hindsight, it appears that Bob Kingsley generally “flew under the radar.” However, when his wisdom and skills as a trial lawyer or judge were called upon, he answered the call. He made his mark in the courtrooms of Colorado, among his colleagues and clients, and upon those he mentored.

This portrait of Denver District Court Chief Judge Robert T. Kingsley (1973–77) can be found at the Denver City and County Building. It hangs in the courtroom of current Chief Judge Michael A. Martinez (room 259) alongside portraits of all of the past and present Denver District Court Chief Judges.



1 . People v. Archina, 307 P.2d 1083, 1099 (Colo. 1957).

2. See Kolod v. U.S., 371 F.2d 983 (10th Cir. 1967) (a must read!), vacated 390 U.S. 136 (1968).

3. See U.S. v. Sarkisian, 231 F.Supp. 489 (D.Colo. 1964) (dismissal of indictment that was later corrected and refiled). 

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