Jury sides with Aspen Residence Hotel owner
Terry Butler will not be evicted from The Residence Hotel, her home and business in downtown Aspen for the past 30 years.
A jury of four women and two men ruled in her favor late Friday afternoon, saying she was entitled to remain at the small, luxury boutique hotel she created and has carefully tended since 1996.
“I’m enormously relieved,” said Bulter, dabbing her eyes with a tissue. “I feel so vindicated. This is a huge win.”
Representatives of the James E. Cox Living Trust wanted to kick her out because she allegedly hadn’t paid enough rent, property taxes and insurance during the nearly 20 years she has run the Victorian-themed hotel. For most of that period, Butler dealt with the building owner, Jim Cox, who by nearly all accounts liked Butler and her stewardship of the historic Aspen Block Building on South Galena Street.
The problems started when Cox died in July 2014, and his assets passed to the trust, which reviewed her lease and decided that she’d been underpaying for years.
However, Butler’s lawyer, Lucas Van Arsdale of Aspen, was able to convince the jury that a 2001 agreement between Cox and Butler eliminating her responsibility of paying property taxes and insurance for the hotel was legitimate.
He also was successful in convincing jurors of a 2006 agreement between Cox and Butler that capped her rent at $11,658 a month. Cox made that deal because he liked Butler and didn’t want her to take $6.2 million to buy out her interest in the hotel.
The main problem with that agreement was that Cox and Butler never put it in writing.
In opening arguments, Aspen lawyer John Case, representing the trust, said Butler made up the 2006 agreement. However, in closing arguments, he conceded that evidence presented during the four-day trial appeared to indicate that such a deal was in effect through at least 2009.
After the verdict, jurors said that Cox’s actions backed up the spirit of the 2001 and 2006 agreements.
“The consistency of the action demonstrated the intent,” juror Kate Fuentes said.
Jim Pomeroy, another juror, said the relationship between Cox and Butler was consistent for 30 years.
“It didn’t change until he died,” Pomeroy said.
Butler said that if Cox were still alive, he wouldn’t have reacted well to her being taken to court.
“He was a John Wayne figure,” she said. “He would have fired every one of them (associated with the trust).”
Butler still has a lawsuit pending against the trust and others associated with the hotel. But armed with Friday’s verdict, she said she hopes she can convince trust officials to come to negotiate a settlement everyone can live with.
“I’d like to sit down and work something out,” she said.
On paper, Butler still has a lease through 2036, Van Arsdale said.
The Trust’s intention was not to evict Butler but to bring the lease into compliance, Erik Barbic, Trust asset manager, said after the verdict. With the jury’s verdict, Trust officials now recognize that property taxes and insurance on the hotel were permanently waived in 2001, he said.
They also acknowledge the existence of the 2006 verbal deal capping the rent and the fact that Butler has options on the hotel lease until 2036, Barbic said.
Finally, he said the Trust is willing to sit down with Butler and work out an amicable solution to her lawsuit.
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