Would-be RFTA driver gets rough ride in Aspen court
August 6, 2009
ASPEN – Jason Zajac came to Aspen small claims court Wednesday seeking $3,038. Instead, a judge threw out his case and almost had Zajac arrested.
Irritated with Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely when she dismissed his case against the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s human resources manager, Zajac voiced his disdain to the judge, witnesses said. The judge said she would have him arrested if his antics continued. Zajac, 39, then backed off, prompting Fernandez-Ely to back off as well.
Court officials already were concerned that Zajac, of Chicago, could pose problems. At the trial, a deputy sat in the courtroom while one served as backup in the courthouse hall.
Zajac was suing RFTA human resources manager Billy Bryant because he allegedly told him he had a bus-driver job, but took it away when he arrived to Aspen. He also had sued RFTA operations manager Jim Engler, who did not stand trial because he was not served with the lawsuit.
Zajac sued for the expenses he incurred on his trip to Aspen.
Hours after the verdict was delivered, Zajac was back in the courthouse to pick up some paperwork he had left with the judge. He said he was not surprised the case was tossed.
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“I kind of had this premonition that justice might not be blind, when I saw the statue of Lady Justice [in front of the courthouse],” he said. (The Lady Justice at the Pitkin County Courthouse does not wear a blindfold, unlike some statues of her.)
At trial, Zajac testified that RFTA officials told him he had a bus driver job last fall. He drove to Aspen from Chicago, but when he arrived here Oct. 27 he did not have the job after all.
RFTA told him a speeding ticket from April 2008 in Chicago made him a risky hire. Zajac proceeded to have the ticket removed from his record, but he still did not get the job.
Zajac argued that he had several discussions with Engler, the RFTA operations manager, who said that his job was secure. He also said Bryant indicated his job was safe if he had the ticket removed.
“I think it’s RFTA’s policy to keep drivers up in the air until they get their first paycheck,” Zajac testified.
Bryant, however, told a different story about the events that transpired with Zajac. Not only was Zajac never guaranteed a job, it wasn’t just the speeding ticket that caught the eyes of RFTA officials. A background check revealed he had been charged twice for battery assault in 2006 and 2007, although the cases were given deferred judgments.
“We have all kinds of concerns about our bus drivers, especially with our late-night crowds,” Bryant said. “I don’t want to add to that concern, nor do I have to add to that concern.”
Bryant added that he felt he made the right choice to not hire Zajac.
“In light of Mr. Zajac’s behavior [after he did not get the job], he has only helped me confirm that I made the right decision.”
Bryant testified that ever since he did not get the job, Zajac sent him harassing e-mail messages. Judge Fernandez-Ely suggested that a temporary restraining order could be issued if Zajac’s pattern of behavior continues.
Zajac later said he plans to hire a lawyer to pursue the case further. He said he was dismayed at how the local court system works.
“Where’s the justice?” he said.