Sometimes, in the converted Victorian in San Francisco that houses Douglas Schmidt's law offices, the phones still rings with death threats. They also ring with new cases.

There was the man who threatened to "blow Schmidt away."

And there was the man who called from San Diego to say he'd read about Schmidt in the newspaper and needed his help to defend someone accused of murder.

Schmidt, a boyish-looking 32, convinced a jury that Dan White did not plan to kill San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk when he took a gun and extra bullets to City Hall, climbed through a window and stooped to shoot both men twice in the head as they lay wounded.

Instead of the death penalty or life in prison for murder, White is serving a seven-year, eight-month sentence for voluntary manslaughter. He could be released in five years. The city erupted in rioting over the verdict.

Almost three months later, people at the courthouse still look up when they hear Schmidt introduced, and attorneys he doesn't know tell him he's a good lawyer.

He just bought a 600-acre ranch in northern Mendocino County where he can pull up in his sports car, his station wagon, his pickup truck, his four-wheel-drive vehicle or one of his motorcycles. For Schmidt, this is the measure of success.

"I'm not interested in being a noted expert," says Schmidt in his easy manner. "I'm interested in being rich."

In 1971, newly graduated from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, the young lawyer from a small farming town in Michigan opened a storefront office in Haight-Ashbury.

"For the first few years you're picking crap with the chickens," says Schmidt, who these days sports the three-piece pin-striped suit appearance of a more prosperous attorney. "If you're not busy, you take anything that comes in, and if it had a buck in it, great."

In 1973, Schmidt defended a career bank robber charged with murdering a grocer during a holdup.

"The man was acquitted, but the verdict drew the ire of the judge in the case, who told the jury Schmidt's client was a "menace and a danger to society."

"It doesn't bother me. That's the job," says Schmidt. "I never fabricate testimony. But I will allow a defendant to tell any story he believes or thinks will sell because I feel the state will do everything it can to convict him."

In 1977, the court appointed Schmidt to defend Curtis Tam, an 18-year-old Chinatown gang member who, with his companions, walked in the Golden Dragon Restaurant looking for members of a rival gang and gunned down innocent patrons as they ate.

"It looked absolutely hopeless," Schmidt says. "He confessed. He was one of the gunmen. Eleven people had been wounded and five killed. It was awful."

Schmidt presented Tam as a relucant participant who feared for his own life if he didn't take part.

Tam's companions, in separate trials, received first-degree murder convictions and life sentences. Schmidt's client was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to 28 years.

"I didn't consider it a success at the time. But everyone has touted it as a big success that he didn't get first degree. He'll do 18 years and the others will do the rest of their lives," says Schmidt.

"That one I don't have too much regret over. He was kind of a follower. There was some testimony he tried to avoid shooting at people. Of course, he didn't succeed in every case."

It was the Tam trial that brought Dan White's family to Schmidt's Union Street office, where his legal papers spill everywhere, even into the tiled fireplace, and a two-foot-tall stack of newspapers about the City Hall slayings still lean against the wall.

"The facts," Schmidt says dryly, "looked terrible."

Talking to people about the killings, Schmidt decided on the type of jury he'd need. "I felt it was the reverse of the typical situation," he says.

Milk and Moscone had been liberal leaders.

"All the liberals said you ought to gas the guy, you ought to hang him in Union Square," says Schmidt. "All the conservative, working-class types said he must have flipped out."

He decided not to ask that the trial be moved out of San Francisco, explaining: "Everyone here had an opinion. A certain type of person will almost sympathize with Dan White. Anywhere else and it's just a double homicide."

Schmidt reserved the right throughout the trial to plead White innocent by reason of insanity, something he now admits the psychiatric evidence did not support. But the five psychiatric experts Schmidt hired did sketch enough of a portrait of White's deep depressions to convince the jury he had a diminished capacity and was incapable of premeditated murder.

"The jury asked for the instructions premeditation and deliberateness -- key elements of murder -- was crucial.

So Schmidt carefully crafted a suggested set of instructions to the jury which was accepted by Judge Walter Calcagno.

The jury asked for the instructions three times. Everytime it got read it sounded better."

Particularly important, according to Schmidt, was the description of heat of passion -- the dividing line between murder and manslaughter -- which Schmidt garnered from a 1972 case. Heat of passion did not have to be the instant anger of a sudden provocation, it said, but could build from a series of provocations over several days.

"It was a kind of political provocation," insists Schmidt, describing Moscone and Milk's maneuvers to deny White the supervisor's seat he'd resigned and then sought back. "They really did kind of screw around with the guy.

"I don't condone what Dan White did, but he got convicted. And the punishment," he says and pauses before going on, "that's not my concern."

Schmidt insists that if White doesn't now feel remorse for the killings, in time he will. "I've asked him a couple of times how he felt about it and there wasn't any response. It will catch up with him," Schmidt says.

He adds that he bases that belief on his similarity to White. They are the same age, and Schmidt often refers to the fact they share a working-class background.

As for Schmidt's own future, he denies ambitions to go into politics -- which he calls a "real sewer" -- but then he adds, "I'd like to be D.A. if the pay was right and I didn't have anything else to do."

The hail of bullets in City Hall Nov. 27 was an ending, not only of two lives but of the promise of White's own life. For Schmidt, it was probably a beginning.