History Colorado on Dec. 4, 2019, rededicated its research library in honor of prominent Denver lawyer Stephen Hart of Holland & Hart. Hart, who was known by Denverites in the 1970s as a staunch supporter of historical preservation, died in November 1993. His legacy lives on at the firm he helped build from the ground up and in humanitarian and ethical legal work he did to reform Colorado tax law.
Hart was born on April 13, 1908, in Denver into two generations of lawyers. An avid outdoorsman from an early age, he ascended as many accomplishments in law as he did Colorado mountain peaks. Hart started out his career at the height of the Great Depression, quickly gaining an interest in tax law and joining Lewis & Grant. After serving as a tax lawyer for several years, he joined the Colorado House of Representatives and then later got a seat in the Senate with the help of his wife Lorna.
It was during his time as a lawmaker that Hart took advantage of his knowledge as a tax lawyer. He rewrote some of Colorado’s most troublesome tax laws that allowed “small loan companies [to] really charge such outrageous interest that they in some cases had a person in almost slavery,” according to Hart.
After his mentor Jim Grant died in 1947, Hart approached the partners at Lewis & Grant about moving into partnership level and was quickly rebuffed after serving more than 13 years with the firm. According to Hart’s August 2003 online memoir with Holland & Hart, “he viewed the legal profession in Denver as ‘very monopolistic, establishment-oriented, dominated by the old firms’ where ‘[n]obody could expect to become a partner … unless he was born into it or married into it.’” Reportedly, after that meeting, he founded Holland & Hart with his friend and business partner Josiah Holland.
For the following three decades, Hart was an active and passionate advocate for his clients in tax law matters. In 1975, he unofficially retired but maintained a vested interest in his firm until his death in 1993.
Hart’s legal achievements were innumerable, and his contributions to tax law reform remain relevant today. Phil Dufford in his time researching Hart for the article Spirit of Rebellion Sent Steve Hart ‘Across the Street’ to Found a Firm, said Hart was “a remarkable person who did remarkable things at a remarkable time and in a remarkable way.” The state historical and archival library has been named after him for more than 30 years, honoring the Denver lawyer who was so dedicated to history, humanity and law reform that he often worked pro bono over his 40-year law career.
– Jess Brovsky-Eaker