Aspen Institute gets restraining order against Lee Mulcahy
December 13, 2012
ASPEN – Pitkin County Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely on Wednesday agreed to the Aspen Institute’s request for a permanent restraining order against local political activist Lee Mulcahy, a decision that prevents him from having any presence on the West End campus and bars him from contact with its employees.
In addition, Mulcahy – who has a lengthy history of lashing out against former employer Aspen Skiing Co. and other organizations and individuals whom he considers elitist – cannot submit postings to the institute’s social-media sites or come within 100 yards of the organization’s grounds.
During a three-hour hearing, witnesses for the Aspen Institute, including staff of Aspen Country Day School and the Aspen Music Festival and School, both of which are on the campus temporarily, testified that they were frightened after a Mulcahy posting on the institute’s Facebook page in late November.
Writing in the name of the Occupy Aspen and tea party movements, Mulcahy asked why an open letter to Walter Isaacson, the institute’s president and CEO, was removed from the site.
“Why do bans serve as a substitute for rational discourse in Aspen?” he wrote. “Where’s the democracy? Hey, elites, you’ve divided us enough.”
But the judge and other witnesses appeared to take the most issue with the second half of his missive, which they deemed a threat.
“Be fair to us little people, or you’re gonna have pitchforks and guns at your doors,” Mulcahy added. “Yes, some of us white trash as Occupy Aspen believe in the NRA too.”
During closing remarks, Mulcahy, who represented himself at the hearing, agreed that his posting contained poor word choices and apologized. He said the references to pitchforks and guns were metaphors and said that he’s never been a violent person.
Mulcahy pleaded with Fernandez-Ely not to impose the permanent restraint, saying, “If they don’t want me to go there, I won’t go there.” He also said he would stop the Facebook postings.
Fernandez-Ely said the apology seemed disingenuous. She said that without a restraining order, Mulcahy was likely to persist with rants that have escalated to the point of harassment.
“It seems that you are the bully in this case,” the judge said after Mulcahy noted that the institute brought in a high-priced trio of lawyers from Aspen, Denver and Washington, D.C., to argue for the order.
“I think that you are a martyr,” Fernandez-Ely later added. “Martyrs have a wonderful place in history, but by definition, they don’t care what happens to them.”
The penalty for violating the restraining order, Fernandez-Ely said, is a fine of as much as $5,000 or 18 months in jail.
During the hearing, there was a lot of witness testimony on both sides.
Alan Fletcher, president and CEO of the music festival, said Mulcahy attended a recent social event and made many people uncomfortable, provoking guests and staff alike.
“I believe there is satire, and then there is reckless behavior,” Fletcher said.
Lee Schumacher, president of the Aspen Country Day School board of trustees, said the school has nearly 200 students between the ages of 2 and 14 and that Mulcahy’s remarks about guns should be taken seriously.
“I think in this day and age, we’re way past hearing anybody talking about bringing guns to the door, and the NRA, at a campus where children are involved,” Schumacher said.
During testimony, it was pointed out that the message “Kill Obama” was spray-painted in October on the side of Mulcahy’s house, which is under construction in the Burlingame Ranch area. Mulcahy, who was questioned by Aspen police and the U.S. Secret Service about the graffiti, claims that it was an act of vandalism in which he had no part.
Though he’s an artist and kept many cans of spray paint inside his house, anyone could have gone into his house and taken the cans while he was away, Mulcahy said.
“I assure you, I found the statement ‘Kill Obama’ reprehensible, and I had nothing to do with it,” he said.
Mulcahy also called witnesses, primarily friends and acquaintances who testified on behalf of his nonviolent character. However, many of them admitted that they have warned him about taking his causes too far and crossing the line.
Shawn Cox said she met Mulcahy in church and described him as “friendly and genuine.” She said he exhibited leadership during a difficult church mission to Kenya, where they built wells and houses for destitute villagers.
Cox called Mulcahy “excited but substantial” and said she would not say he’s violent.
Wednesday’s hearing was the latest in a string of court appearances involving Mulcahy. A prosecutor on Tuesday threw out a charge against the former ski instructor accused of trespassing on Aspen Skiing Co. property. Skico fired Mulcahy and banned him from company property in February 2011 after he attempted to unionize employees.
Last month, Fernandez-Ely declined Skico’s request for a protection order that would have forbidden Mulcahy from being within 100 yards of company property as well as the residences of CEO Mike Kaplan and the Aspen homes belonging to members of the Crown family, Skico’s owners.