Aspen Skiing Co. loses its latest battle with Mulcahy
Ryan Summerlin November 29, 2012
ASPEN – Aspen Skiing Co. officials failed to convince a judge Wednesday that a former ski and snowboard instructor poses an imminent threat to the firm’s employees.
Pitkin County Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely rejected Skico’s request for a protection order that would have forbidden Lee Mulcahy from being 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, the firm’s owners.
But the judge implored Mulcahy to back off Skico because his artistic tactics have only inflamed tensions between him and his former employer. While acknowledging Mulcahy’s right to expression, she also instructed him to stop being abrasive toward Skico with his artwork.
“Stop trying to put yourself in their face,” the judge told Mulcahy, who agreed to cease displaying artwork and messages that disparage Skico – at least in Skico’s view.
Fernandez-Ely’s ruling came after District Judge Denise Lynch, on Friday, signed a temporary restraining order on Skico’s behalf. Skico claimed that Mulcahy’s handwritten signs, supported upright on a trailer hitched to a pickup truck – one message said “Dear CEOs Be Fair Remember the Alamo” – constituted harassment. That’s because Mulcahy had parked the trailer next to Skico’s administrative offices at the Aspen Business Center as well as on Durant Avenue across from the Gondola Plaza.
Mulcahy didn’t deny that the trailer was his and that he wrote the messages. But he said they were simply a product of his “white-trash trailer art” and that Skico should lighten up about the matter.
Skico, however, took a more businesslike approach at the hearing. Attorney David Bellack said as many as 10 Skico workers could testify that they felt threatened by Mulcahy’s messages.
“Our employees see this from across the gondola and next to our (business center) office,” Bellack told the judge. He called Mulcahy’s Alamo reference a “threatening message” that made Skico workers “feel uncomfortable and endangered at the workplace.”
“The message suggests acts of violence,” testified James Ward, Skico’s director of purchasing, who works at the ABC headquarters. Mulcahy also lives in housing at the business center.
However, while cross-examining Ward, the attorney-less Mulcahy said that the message was merely symbolic of “little people against insurmountable odds.”
Another witness, Keith Ikeda, the company’s head of security, said that Mulcahy’s ongoing bouts with Skico are indicative of an “escalating pattern” in which the “ultimate outcome could be mass casualty.”
Ikeda, who worked 25 years in local law enforcement, most recently as Basalt’s police chief, theorized that Mulcahy is “obsessed” with Skico.
“You feel like you’ve been wronged, and you keep trying to rectify this,” he told Mulcahy under cross-examination. “And that is your right. What concerns me is … your idea of your war against Skico, like you are David against Goliath.”
Skico fired Mulcahy and banned him from company property in February 2011. The company said it was because he was not a good employee. Mulcahy claimed that it was because he criticized company practices and pay and talked to other instructors about forming a union.
In February, a deputy cited Mulcahy on suspicion of trespassing when he allegedly taped up a court notice at Skico’s offices at the business center. The notice regarded a lawsuit that Mulcahy filed against Jim and Paula Crown, members of the family that owns Skico.
In a court appearance earlier this year, as well as during Wednesday’s hearing, Mulcahy told the judge that Skico acted in a “retaliatory” manner and violated his constitutional rights by implementing the ban. The trespassing case comes up for further proceedings Dec. 11 in county court.
Meanwhile, Mulcahy delivered an emotionally charged closing argument Wednesday, making references to President Kennedy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Crown family’s holdings in defense contractor General Dynamics, corporate corruption, and a local church and temple, both of which he attends. He insisted that he does not have violent tendencies, but he is frustrated with Skico’s efforts to mute his criticism of the company. All he wants, he told the judge, is to “sit down with the Crowns and say, ‘Let’s move on and agree to disagree.'”
The Alamo message, he said, was taken out of context by Skico, he said.
“This is a wonderful town we call home, and I feeI I’m being massacred by Skico. … I gave them 15 years of my life,” he said.
He also said Skico’s restraining-order bid was done to make his life more difficult.
“I live a block away from their headquarters, and right now I’m prevented from going to the bank or my neighborhood grocery store because it’s 100 yards away from Darth Vader’s helmet,” he said before the judge denied the protection-order request.
One of his supporters and friends, Shelly Gross, served as a character witness for Mulcahy, as did two other local residents.
“He’s an artist,” she told the judge. “He’s a little out there but as sweet as they come. I don’t necessarily agree with (everything) he has done, but he has a heart of gold.”
Another Mulcahy friend, Brian Langford, called Mulcahy a “classic pacifist.”
Skico’s Bellack, however, was not swayed by Mulcahy’s testimony nor his friends’.
“I think Mr. Mulcahy’s incoherent ranting is exactly what Mr. Ikeda referred to as a precursor to violent behavior,” he said while making his final lobby for a permanent protection order.
The judge disagreed but was emphatic to Mulcahy that he will never get the reconciliation he desires from Skico’s brass or owners.
“What I want you to do is forgive and move on, and don’t have that expectation of reconciliation,” she told Mulcahy. “Reconciliation is unrealistic, completely unrealistic.”