Remembering Don Klein

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Don Klein, a local attorney known for his wit and willingness to help the underdog, died Monday afternoon at an Albuquerque hospital following a stroke the week before.

Don Klein

Klein’s funeral is 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Epiphany Episcopal Church, 908 Leroy Place, and will be followed by a remembrance gathering in the church hall. The casket will be open for visitation at 9 a.m. before the funeral service.

“I always liked him personally,” Bruce Burwell, attorney at the 7th Judicial District Attorney’s office, said during an interview Tuesday. “I was shocked to hear he died.”

Burwell knew Klein many years and considered him a very good attorney. He estimated Klein practiced law in Socorro for well over 20 years, and he did a lot of pro bono work. One of Klein’s favorite topics was water law. Burwell noted Klein was also a fiercely loyal Democrat.

“He’s always been a fierce fighter in what he believed in,” Burwell said.

Burwell remarked on Klein’s sharp intelligence. He described occasions when Klein would appear in court with a huge stack of old law books, referencing old and sometimes obscure cases in his arguments.

“He had a different take on things,” Burwell said.

Klein served as an assistant district attorney in Colfax County, which Burwell guessed was probably 30 years ago. Klein also was an assistant DA in Bernalillo County. Lately, Klein was a “typical small practitioner” handling DWIs and such. Burwell said Klein did not take on many felony cases in recent years, possibly due to his advanced age. Klein was 67 at the time of his passing.

Another attorney for the DA’s office, Keith Valles, wrote a personal statement about Klein conveying his respect for the man.

“Don Klein Jr. was an established legal institution here in Socorro,” Valles wrote. “He was the walking personification of the eccentric attorney.”

Valles stated Klein’s written motions, which were typed on an old typewriter or handwritten, most often referenced some archaic treaty, case or legal concept. The motions were usually filled with matters unrelated to Klein’s case, but were still colorful in character.

“Don was a champion of the common people and did provide legal services to those who would often otherwise be without,” Valles wrote. “Although I often disagreed with his arguments and method of advocacy, I did respect his passion.

“Don Klein clearly did not become an attorney to be a wealthy man, but to be a champion for the underdog. We need more of that passion in our profession. He will be missed.”

Edmund Kase III, senior district judge in 7th Judicial District Court, also wrote a personal statement about Klein, calling him a longtime, active, well-respected member of the local bar who appeared before Kase on a regular basis.

“He was the epitome of the classic small town, fearless general practitioner, rushing in where angels would fear to tread,” Kase wrote, “always ready and willing to take on cases that other colleagues might not accept.”

Kase stated Klein was always respectful of the court. He arrived well prepared, and he thoroughly briefed the issues in preparation for trial. Klein’s trademark was his inclusion of citations to cases and authorities he found in the old, dusty law books lining the walls of the courthouse.

“(Klein) entered the age of our new court electronic filing system kicking and screaming, but adapted well,” Kase wrote.

Klein loved books, music and his wardrobe, and was frequently seen at local book sales and thrift shops looking for bargains, according to Kase.

“I don’t know anyone that owned more books than he does,” Woody Peabody, vicar at the Epiphany Episcopal Church, said during an interview Thursday. “And he just was very wise in the law, and very compassionate to people. And he would help anybody, which means he didn’t get rich in his profession. And (he was) greatly loved around here.”

Klein was a parishioner at Peabody’s church for about the last 10 years, and was one of the church’s Scripture readers.

“(He was) an excellent reader,” Peabody said. “Everybody just waited for Don’s turn to come around to be reader. And he was also our coffeemeister.”

Peabody said during the church’s social hour following services, Klein was most often seen in the kitchen making coffee, making sure children had something to drink and seeing that food was going out to parishioners.

“Of course he had help, but he was right there,” Peabody said. “Johnny on the spot.”

In addition to his legal work and helping at the church, Peabody said Klein’s “third ministry” was his involvement in Alcoholics Anonymous, where he was very active. Since AA meetings are held at the church, Klein was often to be found there, “always cheerful, always friendly,” Peabody said.

Another thing Klein liked to do, Peabody said, was pass out boxes of raisins to the younger families at church so their children would have a treat to occupy them.

“He loved the kids,” Peabody said. “The kids are going to really miss him.”

Peabody said Klein did particularly well in law school. Klein graduated from the University of New Mexico School of Law in 1971 and was on the dean’s list for his last year, according to the registrar’s office at UNM.

Peabody spoke often about Klein’s kindness and willingness to help people.

“He just helped everybody he could help,” Peabody said. “… He did a lot for people that didn’t have much — and he didn’t worry about that.”

Peabody said the funeral Tuesday will be held in the church sanctuary, as Klein had wished. Following the funeral service, they will hold “Don’s story time” in the church hall for everyone to share their stories about Klein.

“There’s no time to tell all those (stories) in the service, so we’ll have story time,” Peabody said.