Aspen free cab driver granted delay to prepare court case
ASPEN ” Rogue taxi driver Phil Sullivan will have his day in court, but not before he prepares himself to answer new charges filed against him by the city of Aspen.
He appeared in Aspen Municipal Court Wednesday for a pretrial conference, one week before a jury trial was scheduled for Sullivan, who is accused of operating without a business license; failure to pay the city’s occupation tax and filing a tax return with the city; operating a taxicab without a meter or a rate card, and failing to comply with laws and regulations having to do with public health, safety, morals or welfare.
In total, there are 15 counts that cover the three years Sullivan has allegedly operated his “free” cab service ” 2006, 2007 and 2008.
Sullivan was issued a summons by the city of Aspen in April and the city case has dragged on since. Sullivan, who is acting as his own attorney, asked Judge Brooke Peterson for the case to be postponed so he could prepare to answer an amended complaint filed Oct. 9 by the city’s special counsel, Jim True.
“He is very well aware of what all these issues are and have always been,” True said in arguing not to delay the case.
Peterson granted a continuance for two weeks so Sullivan can consult with an attorney. A trial will be scheduled within a month after Sullivan appears in municipal court on Nov. 5.
“It’s not as though we haven’t been dealing with these issues before,” Peterson said.
Sullivan argues that he does not operate a business; he simply drives friends around. If they choose to give him money for his trouble or for gas, he accepts it.
“I maintain I operate no business,” he said. “I am unemployed … I volunteer to take people for rides.”
But that’s not how the city of Aspen or the Public Utilities Commission, which regulates ground transportation throughout the state, see it.
An administrative law judge this year ruled that Sullivan owes $12,100 in fines for violating PUC regulations.
Sullivan has maintained that he has the proper insurance and is operating legally. He has refused to pay the fines levied by the administrative law judge.
Meanwhile, Sullivan, whose Kia minivan has an illuminated sign on the roof, continues to haul passengers around Aspen. The PUC claims he takes under-the-table tips instead of charging a fare.
But Sullivan maintains he doesn’t receive tips, and the PUC has no jurisdiction over him because all he is doing is driving people around; he doesn’t ask for money.
Based on complaints levied by High Mountain Taxi, the Aspen City Council in March directed police to issue Sullivan with a summons for allegedly violating city laws that regulate the taxi service.
The city has to meet the burden of proof in showing the six-person jury that Sullivan is ferrying people around town and accepting money for it.
True said he plans to call about four people as witnesses, including a PUC employee who took a ride with Sullivan in December of 2006. Sullivan didn’t charge the “passenger,” who instead offered Sullivan a tip, which he accepted, and then a PUC ticket.
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