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Aspen community enables Sullivan

The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

Dear Editor:

Allow me to respond to Phil Sullivan’s recent letter to the editor (“Criminal to provide a public service?” Feb. 6, The Aspen Times).

It is not the job of a police officer to interpret the law or determine innocence or guilt. That’s what Judge Gail Nichols did. She ruled that Phil was violating Colorado state statutes that were placed into effect by the State Assembly. Nichols issued an injunction prohibiting Phil from operating his taxi business. He was not jailed for accepting a gratuity. He was jailed for showing contempt for Nichols’ order … twice.

And now he is once again showing his disdain for Nichols and her court by continuing to operate his “free” taxi service. There appears to be a disconnect here. The judge made a ruling. Who gets to enforce it? Which agency is the appropriate enforcement arm of the Pitkin County District Court, and why is it unable or unwilling to act?

If local law enforcement is not ready to defend the honor and dignity of Nichols’ court, who is? Has the rule of law in Aspen been replaced by an individual’s self-proclamation that “there is nothing wrong with what I am doing”?

Is it the intent of local government to dissociate itself from a matter that the State Assembly considers to be in the public’s best interest? It’s been longer than five years since Sullivan started his business. In all that time, haven’t the members of City Council discovered what a taxicab looks like? One might think, with all the recent attention being paid to the use of signs by local businesses, that the city would be able to recognize one of the most universal advertising symbols in the world: the taxicab roof light.

Who better knows what is in the best interest of Aspen and its visitors than its local government? How did the state get involved with this in the first place? How was Sullivan issued a city of Aspen business license when his business has a court-ordered injunction prohibiting him from operating?

Did the city know, when it encouraged the state to pursue Sullivan in District Court, that there would be no remedial action that the judge could take? Her only choices were punitive, as prescribed by law. Why wasn’t any action taken by our local authorities to try and resolve this problem? City Council’s silence on this matter is troubling. Does maintaining Aspen’s “small-town character” exclude having an approachable small-town government? What about the concepts of “community policing” and “taking the problem off the streets and out of the courts and solving it.” Was it really better to ship this one off to Denver?

Isn’t anyone aware that the state statutes regulating ground transportation provide an exemption for “a private individual who transports a neighbor or friend on a trip” from their authority? If Phil is in fact just providing these types of rides, why does he need the taxicab roof-light advertising? Most people would be satisfied procuring a ride with a phone call or a “Hi, Phil – how about a ride?” If Phil is truly interested in providing rides and socializing, he needs to get rid of the advertising.

During his sentencing, Phil’s attorney, Robert Couhig Jr., spoke on behalf of his client and told the judge that Sullivan “now understood the difference between civil disobedience and violating the judge’s permanent injunction.” Couhig went on to explain that Sullivan now understands that Nichols’ “order, whether he agrees with it or not, has to be followed.” Seems pretty straightforward. What part of “understand” does Phil not understand? Maybe someone from the local legal community could help to clarify and explain what appears to be obvious … or does Phil just enjoy dissin’ the judge?

Will Kane

Aspen


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