By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
part 2 of 2
Stjernholm, Son and Grandson Buffalo Acres occupies a wedge of land in unincorporated Lakewood between Mt. Carbon Dam, which holds back Bear Creek Lake, and a new golf course. Dr. Stjernholm nods toward a nearby strip of green. He says, "There's only one--fairway?--on this side. I think. I've never played, so I'm not familiar with their terms. I just don't have enough time. There's too much work to do."
Two buffalo bulls munch hay in one fenced-off area. In another pen, three young buffalo calves graze. Next to them are three Black Angus cattle. A horse and a mule wander freely around the three-and-a-half-acre compound. Mostly, though, Dr. Stjernholm has fondness for his equipment.
Next to the entrance is a forty-foot flatbed trailer. It is to Dr. Stjernholm what golf clubs and Porsches are to other doctors. "I'm probably the only licensed doctor in Colorado with a commercial driver's license," he says. "We go down the Valley Highway twelve feet wide and seventy feet long. That's what I do for relaxation."
Inside a shed are another dozen or so farm implements, trucks, grinders, tractors. "Got the ol' five-ton crane over there," he says proudly. "That's one of the handiest things I got."
To the south of his property, the concrete of Old Hampden Road fades into dirt. Then it runs directly into one of Dr. Stjernholm's fences. He built it over the road in 1983, after the county had abandoned the street in favor of the new Hampden Road, Route 285. Dr. Stjernholm figured the land belonged to him, so he absorbed it into his compound.
Jefferson County disagrees. The lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial next March.
To the north are a half-dozen large semi- and flatbed trailers sitting on Dr. Stjernholm's property. The county ordered them removed in 1988, contending that storing feed in trailers violated the zoning laws; Dr. Stjernholm kept them there anyway. "Because they're wrong," he says, reasonably. "Let them come and get 'em. There are trailers all over Jefferson County. Why just single out Stjernholm?"
Still, he is confident the county's bureaucrats won't come calling anytime soon. "They know I sure know where the courtroom is," he points out. "And I might just be my own lawyer."
Dr. Stjernholm is also in the process of protesting his property taxes and, in a related matter, the county's decision to rezone his land from agricultural to residential. There is only one possible solution. "They'll just have to change it back," he says. "If they don't, they'll have a lawsuit on their hands." Which compels him to a short lecture:
The Value of Adversity Even If You Lose. "With these people in authority, you go up against them, and boy! They just don't like you to challenge them," he says. "I don't thrive on it." He pauses. "Well, I shouldn't say that. I thrive on controversy when I know I'm right."
He continues: "I've spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on lawsuits over principles. But I'd rather go to court because of principle and lose than not stand up for what I believe in."
Lesson? "When it's all said and done, there's never a U-Haul behind the hearse," Dr. Stjernholm says. "All you leave behind are your accomplishments."
Back at the office, sitting in the parking lot before getting out of the car, Dr. Stjernholm is inspired to deliver another short lecture:
Fever as the Body's Natural Reaction to Infection. "We use all these drugs as soon as we get a fever," he says, "but a fever's so natural."
Lesson? "Fever is nature's way of softening tissue so it can stretch and grow," Dr. Stjernholm says.
Across the hall from Dr. Stjernholm's Testimony Room is the Legal Room.
In one corner is a laser printer. A table in the middle is piled with official documents. One entire wall is decorated with oak file cabinets crammed with other documents. Each cabinet has a label, "Stjernholm vs...." Another wall supports metal shelves teetering with cardboard boxes stuffed with still more legal documents. "Here," Dr. Stjernholm says helpfully, reaching for one of the higher boxes. "This is a real cute one."
Dr. Stjernholm began exercising his legal rights in earnest in 1963, when he wrote a note for one of his patients to the Jefferson County school district explaining that she was unable to attend school and thus would have to be educated at home. The district balked, questioning whether a chiropractor could make the medical determinations traditionally made by physicians. Dr. Stjernholm sued.
His case against the state Department of Education wound up in the Colorado Supreme Court. It came down in Dr. Stjernholm's--and the chiropractic profession's--favor. The justices reasoned the state could not license chiropractors to practice and then have another public agency ignore them. (The family later sued the state for damages--Dr. Stjernholm paid their legal bills "just to prove a point"--but lost.)
Dr. Stjernholm's highly personal relationship with the state's Board of Chiropractic Examiners began in 1980, although at the time no one knew it. That's when he treated a six-year-old girl named Wendy Holland. After leaving his office one day, she was admitted to University Hospital, where she subsequently suffered a heart attack and permanent brain damage.