Recaller no Mr. Nice Guy either
Mick Ireland isn’t the only person around here able to insult old-timers with the written word.
Ireland is on the hot seat of a recall campaign – the third since he took office in 1993 – because of an e-mail he sent earlier this year to his fellow county commissioners identifying 12 individuals and two property holding companies as “liars and greedheads.” The recall began shortly after the e-mail was made public in February.
But one of his most vocal foes in the recall effort has sent out more than one nasty missive of his own.
In 1994, local attorney Millard Zimet fired off letters aimed at coercing his neighbor, an elderly widow and longtime local named Rosemary Bingham, into surrendering some of her property along their shared property line. Zimet’s letters threatened Bingham with a long and protracted legal battle that would consume the family’s finances and her emotional health, unless she capitulated and either gave up the land or paid him $50,000 for it.
“I made some very serious mistakes at that time, and I apologized to the people I thought I owed apologies too. I’m very sorry it happened,” Zimet said in an interview yesterday.
Zimet and the other public faces in the recall campaign – Penny Evans Carruth, Heidi Freidland, Amy Martineau and Mary Ellen Schembri – insist the campaign is all about Ireland’s behavior. “We just need people in public positions to be more civil with each other and behave in ways that is befitting a public official,” said Carruth earlier this week.
At the heart of their campaign is the e-mail, which was discovered by attorney Paul Taddune while he conducted research for a case against the county’s recently adopted moratorium on development applications for large homes.
“The question is, do we as a community want to continue with Mick Ireland’s style of government – a style that polarizes the community, demonizes his opponents and facilitates class warfare?” asked Zimet in an interview two weeks ago.
Zimet’s style polarized a fair amount of the community when he burst into the public consciousness in June 1994, when a story in The Aspen Times publicized the property line dispute.
According to news accounts at the time, Millard and Susan Zimet had only recently moved into the valley and the Cemetery Lane neighborhood when they filed a “quit claim deed” to take ownership of a 10-by-100-foot strip of land along their property line with Bingham.
The property had actually belonged to the Bingham family for more than 40 years, but it contained a utility easement. When the family enclosed their back yard with a fence sometime after 1962, they decided to leave it open so maintenance crews could get to the buried power lines.
The Bingham fence was the only marker with the neighboring lot, however, so the strip of land was used by the neighbors as part of their back yard. A verbal agreement with their previous neighbors had been apparently been sufficient to maintain the family’s ownership.
When Rosemary Bingham learned in March 1994 that the Zimets had filed papers to take control of her property, she sent them a letter asking them to sign a document that acknowledged her ownership. If they didn’t sign, she said she would move the fence out to reflect the actual property lines.
Zimet responded with correspondence that laid out his experience as an attorney and his position at the law offices of longtime local attorney Herb Klein. “I mention this because I want to make it clear to you that I will have free use of all the resources of my firm at my disposal in this matter,” he wrote.
He threatened to “start other lawsuits and create a conflagration that you cannot control and will inevitably burn you. The writings of the sages from virtually every human culture since the beginning of time expressly warn against the type of action you are starting.”
Zimet went on to write that the lawsuit would cost Bingham “in excess of $50,000 in legal fees and court costs for a mere sliver of dirt. … By contrast, litigation with you will not cost me a dime.”
Later in the letter, Zimet predicted the lawsuit would become “all consuming. I have seen clients driven literally to madness. You will spend your days and nights thinking of nothing else … .”
In a follow-up letter in early April to Bingham’s attorney, Zimet offered to sell the land to Bingham (which she already owned) for $50,000 and an agreement granting the Zimets “a perpetual and exclusive open space easement.”
In an interview for the June 3, 1994 story, Bingham said, “He was so threatening that it scared the heck out of me. He came over and was very hostile at the front door. I don’t sleep well, I’m going broke fighting it, I worry about it all the time. He’s ruined my life and if that’s what he’s trying to do, he’s succeeded.”
By June 9, the neighbors had apparently settled their dispute. Bingham wrote a letter to the editor apologizing for the publicity and explaining that the Zimets dropped their claim for her property.
Zimet’s accompanying letter apologized to Bingham, explained that he was simply trying to protect his family’s interests, and bemoaned the harm his family suffered from the publicity.
In the interview yesterday, Zimet said the experience was one of the most important moments in my life. “I understand conflict better. I don’t like to litigate. Instead, I prefer to help people settle their differences out of court.”
Asked if the recall committee had considered Zimet’s dispute over the property line before agreeing he should be their attorney, Schembri said, “Not at all. He’s involved because he’s concerned about Mick Ireland’s behavior. We didn’t look into anybody’s past.”
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