In the Frick of Time

Ann Frick specializes in taking over tough cases and winning

Published in 2010 Colorado Super Lawyers — April 2010

In 2004, as Ann Frick, a founding partner at Denver’s Jacobs Chase Frick Kleinkopf & Kelley, was planning for the Triple Bypass—a 120-mile bicycle ride with more than 10,000 feet in elevation gain—her husband, Ford, said about one particular leg, “You do realize it’s 28 miles, all uphill, from Idaho Springs to Loveland Pass.”

“My response was, ‘You can do anything for 28 miles,’” Frick remembers. “That’s the same mindset I have when I’m tackling tough cases.”

Frick, 59, knows tough cases. She has represented clients ranging from a developer seeking tens of millions in breached-contract damages to a single mother fighting her powerful ex-husband for custody of their only child, to a policewoman who claimed she was demoted because of personal politics.

“She’s a very diligent, hard-working, thorough lawyer,” says Ed Kahn, a former partner. “One thing she has that puts her head-and-shoulders above the average lawyer is her ability to read people. … She’s very good at figuring out where people are coming from.”

“She’s a litigator, and litigators are paid to be pit bulls and strong advocates for their clients,” says one of Frick’s clients. “But she also has the ability to rise above the fray, see the bigger picture and apply common sense and balance to the issues at hand.”

“She is wonderfully gifted at being able to grasp complex legal issues and apply them to real-life situations,” adds attorney and friend Liz Starrs. “And I don’t know if she ever sleeps, but she has raised two daughters, has a great marriage and has devoted and given a lot back to the community.”

 

Frick arrived from Texas in 1969 to attend Colorado College. “Growing up in Dallas in the ’60s, the only girls’ sport was shopping at the malls,” Frick says. “Coming to Colorado really made a very big difference in my life. I felt that it was fine to be a smart girl. It was eye-opening in terms of a lot of ideas and thinking and critical analysis.”

After she received her undergraduate degree, Frick spent two years waiting tables and skiing in Steamboat Springs, where she developed her love of the outdoors. Then she grew restless. Her grandfather was a corporate lawyer, and her parents were politically active and opinionated, so law school seemed a perfect fit.

 “I knew I wanted to be a trial attorney from my first assignment as a clerk at Holme Roberts & Owen,” Frick says. Five days on the job, she was assigned to write the brief for two senior associates representing United Bank of Denver (now Wells Fargo) on a case in her old stomping grounds: Steamboat Springs. “I helped them on the case law,” she says. “But nearly as important, I also knew all the waiters and bartenders in town so I was able to get them free beers after a hard day in court.”

A few years later, following the advice of Jeffrey Chase—Frick’s mentor, friend and now partner—she went to work for the Denver district attorney’s office. Her first felony trial, she assumed, was a slam-dunk. A young man was accused of breaking into a soda-dispensing machine and stealing quarters. “They got him with all the money,” she says. “But I lost the case to the public defender because he was able to create enough reasonable doubt. All the evidence was circumstantial. I learned you have to anticipate what the other side is going to do.”

As she gained more confidence in court, she became especially good at reading people for jury selection.

In fact, a few years later, in 1987, she was a partner at Kelly Haglund Garnsey & Kahn, working as co-counsel with Woody Garnsey in a high-stakes, four-week trial involving a real estate developer seeking $21 million in damages from Denver’s Children’s Hospital; Frick’s team represented the developer. Frick was the youngest lawyer on the case, and she lost so much weight—“probably from the long hours of preparation, loss of sleep, skipping meals and anxiety,” she says—that she walked into the courtroom with her skirt held up by a safety pin.

“I started out doing the jury selection,” she says. “After I was done, the senior lawyer from the opposing side came over and asked, ‘Where’d you learn how to do that?’”

It was also her responsibility to carve out the damages theory. The case involved a 20-year lease that the corporate arm of Children’s Hospital didn’t follow through on, and Frick held the hospital to the letter of the lease.

She recalls hearing the other side say she was “all wet” on her damages theory. “But in the end I persuaded the judge that I was right,” she says, “and she gave the jury the damages instructions I had requested. As it turns out, this was the only legal issue that we prevailed upon in the appeal.” Indeed, though Frick and Garnsey earned their client a $21 million verdict, the highest jury verdict awarded in the state at that time, a few months later, Frick says, “The judge took the case away from us, entering a judgment notwithstanding verdict.”

Still, Garnsey was impressed—in both cases he tried with her. “One of the things that was absolutely over-the-top were two of the best voir dires I’ve ever seen,” he says. “She has the capacity to connect with potential jurors in a very personal way. … She has a very good conversational style in her jury selection. … I was blown away by it.”

And it’s not just jurors she connects with.

“Sometimes when we’re in battle we have to be pretty aggressive, and she fights hard for her clients,” says Beth McCann, a colleague from the district attorney’s office. “But she’s also very concerned about people. She told me a story about when her firm was representing [community leader] Sharon Magness. She could tell it was getting emotionally difficult for Sharon—it was a will dispute—so Ann took her for a walk around downtown. Ann can pick up when the legal process is becoming a little too much for people.”

And it’s not just clients she connects with.

In John T. Mills, Jr. v. Stann Creek Development, LLC and David A. Jorgensen, Frick defended Mills against claims of tortious interference. “[But] what was unique about this case, more so than any other case I’ve had,” Frick says, “was that the two sets of opposing lawyers deeply respected each other. [Dan Hoffman, of Hogan & Hartson, and I] never exchanged heated words or hostile invective, but really got along well throughout all phases of the case.”

In contrast, she says, one of her toughest cases was Forsythe Investments West, Inc. et al. v. Squaw Creek Development Co., in which she defended the developer of a golf course and residential community against multimillion-dollar claims by two limited partners. “I found the opposing counsel, who were from a large firm in San Diego, to be extremely hostile,” she says. “They made everything difficult. They wouldn’t produce their client for a deposition. You had to constantly reschedule. Everything was a fight throughout that case. And their issues and claims were never clear.”

But, in the end, the Mills and Forsythe cases had more in common than not.

In both cases, Frick jumped into an ongoing battle. “In roughly half my cases,” she says, “I’m hired to take over after the case has been handled for a fairly long period by another law firm. It’s like coming in as a quarterback during the third quarter of the game with your team down by 24 points.”

Both cases also involved memorable cross-examinations. In Mills, she had to cross-examine witnesses who hadn’t been deposed. In Forsythe, she took apart an opposing accountant. “I was able to portray him as having been purchased by the opposing parties’ litigation counsel,” she says. “He had always worked for them, and they bought him to be their mouthpiece. I discredited his entire testimony.”

Most important, she won both cases. Mostly. “We prevailed on all counts,” she says of Mills, while in Forsythe, she adds, “After a seven-day arbitration trial, the three-person panel issued a decision substantially in favor of our client. It was, by and large, good, but it was not a complete home run.”

 

By March 1995 Frick was feeling restless again. On the phone with Chase, she asked him, out of the blue, “Have you ever thought about starting a law firm?”

It turns out he had been having that very discussion with David Kleinkopf and Paul Jacobs; and after he and Frick had lunch, he asked her aboard, too. “It moved very quickly after that,” Frick says. On July 1, 1995, Jacobs Chase Frick Kleinkopf & Kelley opened its doors.

Frick is a former state chair of the American College of Trial Lawyers (ACTL), and she’s currently vice chair on ACTL’s 20-person task force, which is working with the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System to improve the civil justice system by increasing access and reducing costs and delays. She also spent 10 years on the Colorado Ballet Board of Trustees and 10 years on the Colorado College Board of Directors. Plus she skis, plays golf and has biked five times across Colorado in the annual Ride the Rockies.

Frick’s younger daughter, Ali, in her first year of law school at Yale, says, “Having a role model of a mother who was so accomplished in her field, and so driven and hardworking, was really important. It just gave me a strong woman role model in my life from day one. Mom was always breaking down barriers, and I found that inspiring.”

Not all of the barriers were serious. Her elder daughter Whitney’s birthday is on Halloween, and, Whitney remembers, “When I was a little girl my mother would always dress up like a witch for my parties. She would tease her hair, wear these awful green nails, paint her face green and put on this long black wool dress, and she would welcome all the kids to my parties—in character. Looking back, I realize how wonderful this was. In the midst of her crazy busy life, she’d put on a ridiculous costume and get into the spirit of the holiday.”

These days, in addition to her trial work, Frick is also a mediator and arbitrator. Over the years, she says, “I’ve become a better listener, become more humble, slowed down and realized that others have a point of view to share that may be very relevant to what we are working to accomplish. Negotiating settlements in cases, whether as a lawyer or a mediator, has improved my negotiating skills in a law firm management meeting or in discussions with other attorneys, my family and friends.

“If I’m acting as a mediator, when I get the case resolved and both sides tell me how much they appreciated it, that’s satisfying,” she says. “But what gives me the most amount of satisfaction is when someone who’s hired me says, ‘I really appreciate what you did.’”

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