Nedlin: Living in a fishbowl |

Nedlin: Living in a fishbowl

Richard Nedlin

When I was a prosecutor, it was a daily occurrence that I would see people I had prosecuted, helped convict and even facilitated in sending away to jail and prison. There was no way around this, and it was just part of the job. The office even had an open-door policy in which defendants would have access to me whenever I was in the workplace. Because of this openness, I decided to have my workspace void of any family photos just so I could have a semblance of privacy.

This is Aspen! The place where one cannot walk down a street, go grocery shopping or have a quiet dinner without running into a handful of friends, acquaintances or just people you recognize or who recognize you. There is truly no anonymity in this town. Gossip is rampant, and one cannot engage in any sort of behavior without having the eyes of Aspen gaze down upon you. Glenwood Springs becomes the getaway interlude in order to escape the ever-watchful Aspen.

The normal degree of separation is 6, meaning that everyone and everything is six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world. In Aspen it is about 2, and therefore the incestuous nature and its proliferation begins. Extend those 2 degrees of separation into what makes “news,” and one cannot get away with anything.

A perfect example is when I was 18 and I moved to Aspen for a season. While living here, my father was nice enough to lend me the car he kept here. Well, when I was young and dumb, I did not pay attention to parking tickets that I had received. I worked under the pleasurable notion that if I ignored them, then the Parking Department would, as well, and they would just disappear into the ether.

I unfortunately, and quickly, became aware that this is not how it works when I received a phone call from my father. Between flavorful words, I heard something mentioned about “over $1,000” and parking tickets. Of course, out of habit, I immediately said it was not me and then inquired as to who, what, when and where. Well, it seems that this one particular summer a local newspaper, to remain nameless (I should be getting paid for these articles, thank you), happened to have published the five largest monetary parking scofflaws. Since the car was registered under my father’s name, guess whose name appeared in the paper. And since he knew people in this town, he received quite a few phone calls ranging from chastisements to commendable chutzpah.

Needless to say, the car was gone, the promissory note was drafted, and my eyes were opened to the “get away with nothing” culture of Aspen. Fast-forward too many years that have gone too fast, and I now tell clients, and have told defendants, of this “fishbowl” culture — how any slight behavior that would usually be overlooked in any larger town or city cannot be gotten away with here.

A perfect example is minors who consume alcohol. The reason they are contacted by law enforcement is because they are drinking in public, usually in the heart of town and acting like idiots. Law enforcement is looking for you, and they know where you are going to do it and when. It is like shooting fish in a barrel.

I recall many underage-drinking cases coming from Belly Up. I can say this establishment did a remarkable job of making sure kids did not drink alcohol and was over-the-top responsible in always contacting law enforcement when there was a problem. However, many would drink before a show, and all the Aspen police had to do was prop themselves outside and reel them in. This also goes for people on probation who may have a condition of no consumption of alcohol. Every police officer knows every person who is not allowed to consume alcohol. What do you think the walk-around at bars is all about? They are looking for those people who should not be there and doing something they are not supposed to.

If you want to commit a crime and not get caught, Aspen is not the place to do it. If you want to be anonymous and keep a low profile, move to New York. If you want to try to become relevant and make one of the local papers, this is probably as good a town as any, if not better, for that to become a reality. At some point most people have acquired their 15 minutes of local fame by being in the paper. Just look at the police blotters showing all recent arrests that occur in Aspen.

I have had clients very concerned over the thought of their arrest being made public. It can be a very embarrassing experience, and there is a stigma that comes along when your name is Googled and an arrest summary next to your mugshot is displayed.

So love Aspen for what it affords, yet be cautious for what it can deliver. Peak seasons help supply some well-needed camouflage by the tourists, but soon they leave, and you are left exposed again. Live a clean, healthy, drama-free life, and you will always fly beneath the radar. Then again, this is Aspen; someone is always looking to stir the pot and push buttons, and eventually the pristineness gives way to Aspen’s dark underbelly that is usually so well-hidden. However, that again is part of the allure — so tread lightly, because private eyes are always watching you.

Richard Nedlin is a former prosecutor in Aspen and now practices criminal defense. He can be contacted at and