Judge orders a stop to Aspen senior’s lawsuits
ASPEN – Jan Hamilton’s courtroom crusade might be coming to an end.
A judge issued an injunction Thursday that prohibits the 69-year-old Aspen woman from filing lawsuits on her behalf in the 9th Judicial District, which is comprised of Pitkin, Garfield and Rio Blanco counties.
Senior District Court Judge Frank Plaut said Hamilton’s history of pro se litigation, which includes 61 cases she’s filed in Pitkin County’s court system since 2005, shows a pattern of claims that are “baseless,” “frivolous” and “vexatious.”
“There has been an ongoing abuse of the process in the Pitkin County district and county courts,” he said.
In a written order issued later in the day, Plaut wrote that the injunction “is necessary to protect the orderly and efficient operation of the Colorado judicial system … and to protect the rights of citizens of Pitkin County against abuses of the legal and judicial process by [Hamilton].”
The judge noted Hamilton’s propensity to file frivolous suits that were later dismissed, among them one against a brother and sister who Hamilton claimed “played a pivotal role” in having her banned from an Aspen church.
The suit, which was later dismissed, asked that Charles and Nancy Wall give her $1 million in Philip Morris stock; a new Range Rover every three years; a “perpetually stocked wine cellar, with the best European wines, champagne and Cuban cigars”; a fully stocked freezer with lobster, caviar and organic Limousin beef; a full pass to the Aspen Music Festival, and a $1 million donation to St. Benedict’s Monastery in Old Snowmass.
Hamilton, who has cancer and sat in a wheelchair during Thursday’s hearing, has been in the custody of the Pitkin County Jail since May 4 on three cash-only bonds of $100,000. The criminal charges against the nutritionist – stalking, harassment, extortion and bond violations – stem from a spate of emails she sent to local residents saying she would sue them if they did not testify in her civil cases.
But neither her illness nor jail confinement has slowed her down; Hamilton has regularly fired off lawsuits, motions and other legal actions from the jailhouse, all without an attorney.
Over the course of Thursday’s 90-minute hearing in Pitkin County District Court, Hamilton argued that the First Amendment protects her right to file lawsuits and pursue other legal remedies. At times she burst into tears, burying her face in her arms, before collecting her composure and forging ahead with more arguments.
The root of her arguments go to First Baptist Church, now Crossroads Church, for banning her in 2005. Hamilton says she was kicked out because of her sexual orientation. She also has filed dozens of lawsuits and restraining orders against Aspen residents, landlords, churchgoers and others.
Hamilton blames her adversaries on everything from sexual discrimination, retaliation and defamation to second-degree murder, claiming she is afflicted with cancer because of stress they brought into her life.
Court clerk Carolyn Jemison, in not so many words, testified that Hamilton has brought stress as well on the local court system and its workers.
“It’s had a severe impact on our ability to manage the caseload,” Jemison said. “I spend 25 percent of my time on Ms. Hamilton’s cases.”
Jemison said she has rejected about half of Hamilton’s filings because they weren’t properly formatted. And in one case Hamilton filed 42 motions, Jemison said.
“Now that she’s in jail I can estimate what my workload is less because it’s controlled,” Jemison testified, adding that she still spends two hours a day on Hamilton’s cases.
At Thursday’s show-cause hearing, Hamilton had little success explaining her plight to the judge, who cut her off several times on the basis of irrelevant testimony. The show-cause hearing was set by Plaut, who is presiding over a Hamilton lawsuit against Pitkin County Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely. Hamilton’s suit claims that Fernandez-Ely, by dismissing a multitude of her discrimination lawsuits, engaged in bias, coercion and slander, among other accusations. The suit seeks more than $2 million in damages.
“There is a lynch mob crusade by extreme Christian fundamentalists – which could even be called terrorist abuse – against me as a lesbian in the Aspen community,” Hamilton said in court.
The judge cut her off before she could say more.
Later, Plaut said: “You think because you have access to the court you can say whatever you want, and that’s just not how the court works.”
Oftentimes Plaut had to remind Hamilton that the function of the show-cause hearing was for her to explain why an injunction should not be entered to restrain her from filing lawsuits on a pro se basis in the 9th Judicial District.
A few times Hamilton even impressed the judge, citing case law in an effort to support her cause.
It wasn’t enough. In a 13-page written order he issued after the hearing, Plaut wrote that “in large part, the contents of the documents she has filed have been irrelevant, verbose, vexatious, repetitive, harassing, spurious, frivolous, groundless and meritless.
“As reflected by her various court filings, [Hamilton] has failed to follow fundamental legal principles,” the judge wrote. “Her often baseless assertions have created serious and unwarranted stress and disruptions not only of the courts of the 9th Judicial District, but also of the lives and resources of the many people she has named as defendants in those cases.”
In his ruling, Plaut noted that the “right of citizens to access the courts to resolve disputes is one of the most treasured liberties under the Bill of Rights, and is a cornerstone of our republican form of government.”
But, the judge explained, “The power to assert a legal claim against a fellow citizen comes with great responsibility, and should only be exercised to pursue the fair and efficient resolution of a legitimate legal dispute. The misuse of litigation as a weapon to baselessly harass, vex or spite an opponent offends the First Amendment by disrupting the efficient operation of the court system and misappropriates the judicial resources necessary for legitimate litigants to resolve their disputes.”
As part of the injunction and order, Plaut said Hamilton must hire an attorney for her case against Fernandez-Ely within the next 30 days. If she doesn’t, the case will be dismissed. Hamilton can, however, represent herself on a pro se basis when she is a defendant, the judge said.
The judge also said she can file a motion to reconsider his ruling, or take the case to the Colorado Court of Appeals.
Later Thursday, Hamilton sent a note to The Aspen Times, saying she will ask for a new judge.
“An old homophobic, egoic [sic] male is not appropriate for this case!” she wrote.
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