Rogue Aspen taxi driver taps Big Easy barrister
October 12, 2011
ASPEN – An Aspen cab driver’s bout with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission just got spicier.
Philip Sullivan has enlisted the legal help of Rob Couhig, a well-known New Orleans businessman and attorney whose resume includes experience in Louisiana politics, sports-franchise ownership and talk radio.
Couhig, who is licensed to practice law in Colorado, also represented a Garfield County landowner in his lawsuit against Antero Resources over a pipeline project that went through the man’s property. The case resulted in a private settlement earlier this year in which Antero paid an undisclosed amount to the landowner.
That landowner, Bob Regulski, happened to be one of Sullivan’s partners with Mellow Yellow, an Aspen cab company the two operated with another local, Harvey Gilmore, in the 1970s. It was then that they sued the Ford Motor Co. when four or five of their vans caught fire. Their attorney was Couhig.
The relationship between Sullivan and Couhig has remained intact over the years, the two said Tuesday. And when Couhig learned of Sullivan’s long-running bout with the PUC, he volunteered to work pro bono for the 75-year-old Woody Creek resident.
Sullivan is due in Pitkin County District Court on Oct. 20 for a contempt hearing. The hearing will mark the first time he’s had a lawyer represent him against the PUC. The PUC claims Sullivan has ignored orders from the state and court that bar him from receiving money for providing a taxi service.
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At the Oct. 20 hearing, Couhig will be tasked with explaining why Sullivan is not in contempt of court for allegedly violating the injunctions. The PUC claims that one of its undercover officers collected a tip from Sullivan in June for his services, in direct violation of the injunctions.
That hearing was originally scheduled for Tuesday, but was continued so Couhig could review the case.
“We are getting into it and studying the case,” Couhig said. “We want to study it and make sure whatever presentation we make is appropriate and gives Phil his best opportunity.”
In March, Sullivan spent seven nights in the county jail after a Feb. 22 trial in which Pitkin County District Judge Nichols determined he was guilty of ignoring last year’s court order. The sentencing came after Sullivan defended himself in court without a lawyer.
“I’m pretty damn proud of how I handled this until I got out of jail,” Sullivan said. “I didn’t know what I could do or would do and I knew the judge wasn’t listening to me, and at the advice of my two former partners [Regulski and Gilmore] I decided to get counsel.
“And quite frankly, I was prepared to do my time, but I don’t know the law and I didn’t have any representation at all.”
Sullivan has maintained that he simply provides a service to passengers, and they give him tips in return. The PUC, which regulates transportation carriers, has argued that Sullivan has not had the proper licenses to ferry people around town. So far, the PUC has won the arguments in the courtroom, successfully obtaining two court injunctions that ban Sullivan from collecting tips from passengers. The first one was issued by Nichols in July 2010.
Before then, the PUC had fined Sullivan nearly $15,000 dating back to 2006. Sullivan hasn’t paid off any of the fines.
Couhig declined to discuss facts of the case or what Sullivan’s defense will be.
He currently runs the firm Couhig Partners LLC, and has worked in areas of civil law including product liability, business and commercial. As a Republican, he ran for mayor of New Orleans in 2006, debating candidates on “Hardball with Chris Matthews.” He finished fourth in the GOP primary for the contest. He also ran in 2010, finishing fourth again in the Republican primary.
Couhig also was instrumental in moving the minor league baseball franchise Denver Zephyrs to New Orleans in the 1990s, and co-hosted a weekly talk show in New Orleans through January 2008.