Magazine Feature / People

Late law dean remembered as legendary trial attorney

Daniel Hoffman’s life sounds like a story.

He was a bright student who graduated high school at age 15 and enrolled at the University of Colorado by 16. He took up law and became one of the most respected professionals in the community. He marched with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., served as the DU law school dean, co-owned the Denver Nuggets and got the late Michael Jackson to sing for a federal jury while representing him.

“He had an unusually rewarding, full life,” says friend and colleague Bob Troyer, a partner at Hogan & Hartson, where Hoffman worked up until his death.

Hoffman, a DU Sturm College of Law dean and professor emeritus, died Sept. 1 after suffering a stroke Aug. 8. He was 78.

“He really was a monumental figure in the trial lawyer community,” Troyer says. “He was legendary and he lived up to that legend.”

Hoffman became DU’s law dean in 1977. There was some opposition to a “nonacademic” taking over the law school, as Hoffman was a practicing lawyer instead of a practicing educator, University records show. But according to a 1981 Clarion article, Hoffman was responsible for the school gaining a healthier outlook in his first couple of years on the job. There was a 13 percent increase in law applications at DU while law school applications were down 7 percent nationally.

He left DU in 1984 to devote more time to private practice. He said at the time it was necessary for the school to have a “changing of the guard.”

Hoffman was born May 4, 1931, in New York City and received his undergraduate degree from the University of Colorado and his law degree from the University of Denver in 1958.

At 32, Hoffman was named Denver’s youngest safety manager in 1963. “The [Denver] Police was in disarray, and true to his personality instead of playing it safe he took control of the department and cleaned it up,” Troyer says.

In 1965, Hoffman joined King on his civil-rights protest march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. He was state director for Robert Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign and protested at Chicago’s Democratic National Convention later that year.

He became part-owner of the Denver Nuggets in the early 1970s while the team was in the American Basketball Association. He helped negotiate the merger of the ABA with the NBA in 1976.

In 1994, he won a jury verdict for singer Michael Jackson in a copyright infringement case after a Denver woman claimed she had written his song “Dangerous.”

“He put Jackson on the stand in a direct examination, which is now used as an example in law schools and the National Institute of Trial Advocacy as the perfect direct examination,” Troyer says.

While Jackson was on the stand, Hoffman coaxed him into singing a solo version of his hit “Billie Jean,” which allowed jurors to see another side of Jackson.

Hoffman was named a DU Law Star in 1997, receiving the outstanding alumni award for demonstrating achievement, humanitarian service and loyalty to the college.

“Dan represented all that is excellent about DU,” says interim law Dean Martin Katz. “He loved knowledge and the ways it could be brought to bear to make the world a better place. He truly made a difference in the lives of many, many people. We will miss him.”

Hoffman is survived by his wife of 55 years, Beverly; three daughters, Lisa Ciancio, Tracy Cockriel and Robin Black; five grandchildren; two sisters and three brothers.

A public memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Sept. 14 at the Newman Center for the Performing Arts.

Donations may be made in Hoffman’s name to the Sturm College of Law.

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