The Gazette's self-described polemic, pedantic, wacky-friendly guy, editorial page editor Dan Njegomir, is on a bender.
Besides admonishing Colorado for refusing to kill, kill, kill, convicted murderers, Njegomir has recently found particular delight in criticizing lawyers for defending "trailer trash," confessed his alcohol-saturated stint in law school and detailed his fantasies about being a divorce lawyer in Las Vegas.
It all started April 30, when Njegomir (pronounced knee-go-meer), who writes all of the unsigned editorials espousing the newspaper's often maddening and plain absurd libertarian-style views, bemoaned the fact that Colorado has not executed more convicted murderers. The editorial then hammered on the state's public defender's office, demanding it be dismantled.
Colorado Springs Public Defender Jonathan Walker was perturbed. On May 1, he wrote a letter to the editor:
"Abolish the Public Defender system? You claim that because one is against the Death Penalty they should not be allowed to represent an accused facing the gravest of all punishments," Walker wrote. "Would you hire an editorial writer who did not believe in the First Amendment?"
Walker then offered up criticism to those who pick and choose which parts of the Constitution to defend. He ended the letter on this note: "Even though I detest your newspaper, I would defend your right to publish a mediocre product, as is your right under the Constitution, to the death."
Walker was shocked when he received an e-mail back the same day from Njegomir, a complete stranger who he'd never heard of, which informally began like this:
"Temper, temper! During the year I spent drinking my way out of law school, I at least learned how to tell a good analogy from a bad one. To wit: This newspaper can hire anyone it wants to dish out any views it wants because you, as a reader, are free to cancel your subscription at any time ... I, by contrast, have no choice as a taxpayer but to help pay your salary and then stand by as you twist and torture the law of the land ..."
Njegomir informed Walker that he would be willing to publish what he described as a "tantrum," but offered Walker the "favor" of resubmitting a rewritten letter that "didn't make [him] appear so, well, sweepingly shrill."
"I'm that nice a guy," Njegomir wrote. "You can thank me later." The letter was simply signed, "Dan at the Gazette."
Walker couldn't believe it.
"I was writing a letter to the editor, and then I get this message from this idiot," Walker said. "It was so unprofessional; if you want to print it, print it and if you don't, then don't, but don't attack me."
Baited, Walker responded in what has become an e-mail male bonding of sorts that, at press time comprises five exchanges between the two men (all of which can be perused in full below). They are highly recommended reading.
In his response, Walker suggested that as Njegomir was drinking his way out of law school, he must have slept through courses on Criminal Procedure and Constitutional Law.
To which Njegomir jumped back: "I love dukin' it out with indignant lawyers! Makes up for the low pay in my business.
"(...If I'd had your self-discipline and smarts, I wouldn't have wasted it defending trailer trash. I'd probably have stayed in Vegas, limited my practice to filing overpriced, uncontested divorces out of a mail drop and spent most of each day with a shaker, a blender, a blond and a brunette. Or something like that.)"
This is not the first time that the Public Eye has been alerted to Njegomir's practice of "reaching out" to letter writers.
Last year, Njegomir admonished another submitter, Grand Junction resident DeAnna Woolston, who wrote in to criticize The Gazette's pro-sprawl stance. In response, Woolston received an e-mail attack from Njegomir, accusing her of being "disingenuous," "patently irrational," unreachable, "downright selfish" and possibly racist (the June 7, 2001 column detailing that exchange is also available online at www.csindy.com).
This week, Njegomir defended his title: "It's fun, it's great for the paper, it's a little exchange," he said of the people who dare take him on.
Njegomir, who says he likes to project a Dean Martin-style image, declined to say how often he similarly assails other Gazette letter writers. He also refused to quantify just how many dead murderers it would take to quench his newspaper's blood-thirst for capital punishment.
"Your question is, of course, silly," he said. "Come on, Cara, you can do better than that."
OK. Have you ever been committed, Dan? "No."
Have you ever been ordered to dry out, Dan? "No."
The E-mail Exchange
The following is the recent exchange of e-mails between Njegomir and public defender Jonathan Walker, who wrote a letter to the editor of the Gazette that criticized an April 30 editorial calling for the states Office of the Public Defender to be dismantled:
May 1, 2002
Abolish the Public Defender system? You claim that because one is Against the Death Penalty they should not be allowed to represent an accused Facing the gravest of all punishments. Would you hire an editorial writer who Did not believe in the First Amendment?
You conservatives cloak yourselves in the flag, yet pick and choose Which parts of the Constitution you will defend (e.g. "...the right to bear arms"); while expressing a willingness to forget the Constitutional concepts of Due Process, Right to Trial by Jury and the Effective Assistance of Counsel. Even though I detest your newspaper, I would defend your right to publish a mediocre product, as is your right under the Constitution, to the death.
Jonathan L. Walker
Deputy Public Defender
May 1, 2002
Temper, temper! During the year I spent drinking my way out of law school, I at least learned how to tell a good analogy from a bad one. To wit: This newspaper can hire anyone it wants to dish out any views it wants because you, as a reader, are free to cancel your subscription at any time (and may already have done so, if you indeed detest us). I, by contrast, have no choice as a taxpayer but to help pay your salary and then to stand by as you twist and torture the law of the land that is supposed to govern us both. It follows that either I should be able to opt out of subsidizing your mortgage payments just as you can opt out of helping pay mine, or I should be able to second-guess whom it is the state hires to do your kind of work. Notably, I'd demand a member of the bar who supports Colorado statute in all its provided penalties, remedies, etc.
Now, I'll do you a favor: If you really wish for me to publish this particular tantrum [of] yours, I'll comply (but, per our policy, please follow up with address and daytime phone, for confirmation purposes only, if needed.) Then again, if you reconsider and would rather submit something that still takes us to task and spares us no quarter, but that doesn't make you appear quite so, well, sweepingly shrill, I'll gladly entertain that instead. (Far from cloaking ourselves in the flag, we editorially oppose flag-burning bans and ardently support due process, trial by jury, etc.) Pretty flexible, eh?
I'm that nice a guy. You can thank me later. Please feel free to call anytime with questions about our policies. Don't be shy.
Warmest regards in any event,
Dan at The Gazette
May 2, 2002
Dear Mr. Njegomir:
My e-mail was not written in anger and you don't know me so why be so defensive ("Temper, temper")? While "drinking your way out of law school" you obviously weren't around when Criminal Procedure or Constitutional Law was offered (or you slept through them). If you had attended (and understood) those courses you would have learned that the role of a Defense lawyer in a criminal proceeding is to make sure the police and the D.A. follow the Rules (Constitution, Rules of Criminal Procedure, Rules of Evidence, etc.). To say we "twist and torture the law" is ludicrous and shows your ignorance of the legal process. For a cop, such as a notorious one here in the Springs, to stop people on the street based on a profile and then lie on an affidavit for a Search or Arrest Warrant is "twist[ing] and tortur[ing] the law". For the D.A. in Denver to charge an on-duty cop who hits a pedestrian with a police cruiser with a misdemeanor when the speed of the non-emergency vehicle was so high that the man loses both legs and dies; is a "twist and torture" of the law. For that same D.A. to not charge Doug Dean with at least two felonies over the domestic incident with his Lobbyist/Girlfriend is "twist[ing] and tortur[ing] the law". When the Courts allow a death penalty verdict to stand when a person's lawyer falls asleep is "twist[ing]" and "tortur[ing]" the law.
As for your suggestion to abolish the Public Defender System, one of the nation's finest, you should brush up on your research (Oh, did you miss research and writing in law school, too?). First, Salmon was not represented by Public Defenders. Secondly, ask your court beat reporter, Bill (who does a good job of even-handed and accurate reporting), whether he believes that the Public Defenders do a better job of defending people here than the private bar. The law requires that everyone facing jail who is indigent, is entitled to free Counsel. The State Public Defender system is a bargain for the taxpayer. Numerous studies have shown that without us, you, the taxpayer, would be paying far more money per client/case than you now do. We handle about 80% of the criminal felonies filed in Colorado. Think what the cost would be to the taxpayer if private counsel was retained for each of these people.
I'm proud of what I do and make no apologies. I believe the jury system Is the best in the world. It also happens to be one of the few purely democratic functions left in this country. It brings citizens together, without an agenda, to decide important issues based upon evidence, argument and their perceptions. Anyone who advocates curtailing this purest of democratic institutions, especially in matters of life and death is, in my opinion, irresponsible.
Finally, I don't care if you publish my original e-mail or not. I wouldn't want you to lower your standards by printing a "tantrum."
Jonathan L. Walker
May 2, 2002
I love dukin' it out with indignant lawyers! Makes up for the low pay in my business.
(Indeed, if only I hadn't slept through -- actually, it was civil procedure. But if I'd had your self-discipline and smarts, I wouldn't have wasted it defending trailer trash. I'd probably have stayed in Vegas, limited my practice to filing overpriced, uncontested divorces out of a mail drop, and spent most of each day with a shaker, a blender, a blonde and a brunette. Or something like that.)
At least we understand each other. Too bad you're on the wrong side of the law. Thanks for the contact info. I'll go ahead and use your original submission sometime in the next few days.
May 3, 2002
Your reference to my clients as "trailer trash" speaks volumes. Not that it is any of your business - But, this is a second career for me. I had a successful Product Liability practice in Detroit representing catastrophically injured people against the auto companies and child product companies. I've tried cases in 8 different states. I retired after 19 years to Boulder where I wrote, skied, lectured at seminars and law schools. I also did pro bono work representing environmental activists and a "battered woman" who killed her husband with an axe in Jeffco (Manuela Garcia). I found I missed the courtroom and applied, and was hired by the PD system. I love what I do and believe it's the best work a lawyer can do. I get the opportunity to defend the Constitution on behalf of those who need it most. If this is a waste, then I wish I had the balls twenty-five years ago to "waste" my whole career in the defense of the indigent.
Jonathan L. Walker
The column detailing Gazette editorial page editor Dan Njegomirs run-in with Grand Junction resident DeAnna Woolston (including the actual correspondences between the two) can be found at: http://www.csindy.com/csindy/2001-06-07/publiceye.html