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Rick Kornfeld pursues white-collar criminal defense

Rick Kornfeld


Right after law school in 1990, Rick Kornfeld became an assistant US attorney in Chicago and prosecuted bank robberies, mail theft, fraud and other “garden-variety” federal crimes.

“Then I spent a couple of years prosecuting narcotics and violent crimes,” the attorney says in his 10th-floor office at Recht Kornfeld on Stout St. in downtown Denver. “I graduated.”

Like a character in the cult hit “The Wire,” Kornfeld worked on major wiretap cases that utilized federal firearms statutes to “decapitate the gang leadership in Chicago.”

Later assigned to a federal task force called Operation Trigger Lock, he pounded the hammer of firearms statutes into Cicero and Franklin Park, the suburban heart of Chicago’s gang activity.

“Back then, much like today, Chicago was experiencing a lot of gang-related murders,” Kornfeld says. Distanced by time, the 50-year-old still recalls those dicey days.

“I never felt threatened, not really,” he says. “This was pre-Internet, when it was much harder to track people down. We received briefings from US marshals about safety issues, and several of my colleagues carried guns. But not me.”

During his tenure as assistant US attorney, Kornfeld tried 20 federal cases and lost only one. “My success rate? As a prosecutor? It’s always good,” he laughs. “You have the luxury of choosing which cases to take and which ones to avoid.”

Kornfeld, a Denver native, returned to his hometown in 1994 with wife Julie Malek and their six-month-old daughter to be near family.

That’s when Kornfeld traded his prosecutorial role to sit at the defense table.

He specializes in white-collar criminal defense, corporate compliance and internal investigations — people often portrayed as bad guys without guns.

“Yes, I’m on the other side,” he says. “Completely on the other side. It’s very common for attorneys to make that switch.”

Aware of the societal distaste for white-collar criminals, particularly after clients lost their retirement savings while Wall Street execs earned phenomenal bonuses, Kornfeld divides the issue into two parts.

“Is there a negative view of lawyers? Yep!

“But as an attorney, you have an ethical obligation and a fidelity to the legal system. The cocktail party question is, ‘Would you ever represent a guilty person?’ And the answer is yes. Otherwise I’d be pretty hungry and pretty skinny.”

He smiles, cognizant that his last statement could join an already epic litany of lawyer slurs.

“The point of being a good defense lawyer is to force the government to do its job, which is proving its case beyond reasonable doubt,” Kornfeld says seriously.

“The government has all these resources, and I am the only person between the client and that powerful system.

“I ensure that clients get individualized and fair consideration.

“Am I popular representing someone who is considered a pariah?” He refers to a plethora of nasty voice messages and emails he’s received over the years: “Your client should rot in hell.” “How could you represent this scumbag? You should rot in hell too.”

Unfazed, Kornfeld says these anonymous communications are part of the territory.

The rest of this article is available in the September 19, 2014 IJN Rosh Hashana print and digital edition only. Contact Carol to order your copy at carol@ijn.com or subscribe to our online e-Edition.

Andrea Jacobs

IJN Senior Writer | andrea@ijn.com

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