Tip-taking Aspen driver pleads not guilty to contempt
September 24, 2011
ASPEN – Aspen renegade cabbie Phil Sullivan pleaded not guilty to a charge of contempt Friday in Pitkin County District Court.
Sullivan is accused of violating a permanent injunction – for a second time – that initially was issued by Judge Gail Nichols in July 2010. Her order bars him from receiving money for providing a taxi service.
Nichols set a trial date of Oct. 11 starting at 9 a.m. to hear both sides of the contempt case. Sullivan, 75, faces up to six months in jail on the charge.
In March, Sullivan spent seven nights in the county jail after a Feb. 22 trial in which Nichols determined he was guilty of ignoring last year’s court order.
Sullivan, who does not hold a license to operate a taxi, contends he is not officially operating a cab and is merely giving friends and others a free ride home. He admits that he does accept a gratuity but contends there’s nothing illegal about it.
Sullivan, who did not have legal representation, sought to explain his case during Friday’s show-cause hearing on the contempt charge and asked the judge to consider overturning the injunction. But after explaining his legal rights and asking him to enter a plea, Nichols declined to discuss details of the case, saying the hearing was not the proper time for full-blown discourse involving the attorney for the state and Sullivan.
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“No, Mr. Sullivan, this is not your opportunity to just talk,” Nichols said.
On a speakerphone, assistant attorney general Emanuel Cocian said he is also seeking remedial action against Sullivan, stemming from his failure to pay fines and the state’s attorney fees associated with previous judgments against him. After the hearing, Sullivan estimated that he has been told to pay about $15,000 in fines and fees.
Nichols spent much of the hearing trying to schedule a trial date. Sullivan said he would be unavailable on Oct. 20 because of a planned trip to Mexico. The judge also asked Sullivan if half of a day would be a sufficient amount of time for a trial and to examine witnesses.
“A half day is not going to do it,” Sullivan replied, adding that he might call 10 witnesses or perhaps none.
Cocian asked Nichols if the trial and potential sentencing could be scheduled on the same day because of the cost of traveling from Denver to Aspen. Sullivan objected and Nichols agreed, saying she was not inclined to schedule a sentencing on the same day as the trial.
Sullivan, of Woody Creek, was caught in a Public Utilities Commission sting operation in Aspen on June 17 when he gave investigator William Schlitter a ride in his white Kia minivan.
“Mr. Sullivan transported me to my final destination,” Schlitter wrote in an affidavit filed with the court on Aug. 3.
“Upon arrival, I asked Mr. Sullivan how much would be fair for the transportation,” the document continues. “Mr. Sullivan then stated the normal cab fare was $10 to $15. I asked Mr. Sullivan if $20 would be fair, to which he responded in the affirmative. I paid Mr. Sullivan $20 for the ride.”
After the hearing, Sullivan said he’s not sure whether he’ll hire an attorney to represent him on Oct. 11.
“If I can find one nasty enough, the answer is yes,” he said. “I’m looking for someone who is as indignant about my rights and the rights of others as I am. If they’re not incensed about what’s going on, I’ll never get a lawyer, I guess.”
Sullivan sees himself as a crusader of sorts, out to protect the rights of service providers. At previous hearings and trials, several people have filled the courtroom in a show of support. Only a few were present Friday.
Sullivan said given the community’s status as an expensive resort town, people helping others out and receiving some sort of tip, whether it’s in the form of money or a mealJill Beathard 9/23/11 , is important.
“I can park in town. I have a private vehicle. Do I have to limit my friends, the number of people whom I can give a ride?
“When this all started, I was concerned about my civil rights. Now I want to protect everybody’s civil rights. This is a big issue for me and maybe for others,” he said.