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ETHIC CLEANSING

Defame is the name of the game.
David Thomas, the district attorney of Jefferson County, wasn't happy with Eric Dexheimer's August story that deconstructed the Quigley-Aronson mess from an overblown scandal to an overgrown neighborhood spat. By then, of course, the case that the head of the Anti-Defamation League labeled "one of the most astonishing cases of anti-Semitic harassment our office has ever confronted" had dwindled from thirteen counts of ethnic intimidation, conspiracy and harassment to a meager misdemeanor traffic violation. DA Thomas had dropped the rest of the charges within a month of their filing--for reasons made abundantly clear in that story.

The DA never should have filed those charges in the first place, and did so only in response to public--and private--pressure.

Still, Thomas was in a snit. "I, for one, hope for a constructive resolution to this conflict," he wrote Westword. "Instead of promoting more discord we should search for reconciliation. Our world needs a lot more of that."

He should have remembered that last December, before his office filed the charges that ripped the neighborhood apart. Because it's extremely doubtful that the DA's "reconciliation" revealed last week was the sort of "constructive" activity Thomas had in mind. That resolution called for an almost unprecedented $75,000 payout from the DA's office and the sheriff's department to settle any claims the Quigleys may have against Jefferson County (last month William Quigley filed a $5 million defamation suit against the Aronsons, their two lawyers and ADL head Saul Rosenthal), as well as another letter from DA Thomas. The full text is reproduced here in italics--the editorial comments are mine.

I bear full responsibility for the conduct of the District Attorney's Office in its investigation and prosecution of alleged criminal activity in Jefferson County. Our office works closely with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department in investigations and prosecutions. And that's not the only group Thomas's office works with closely. In the fall of 1994, the sheriff was getting frequent calls from the Ridge, a pricey Evergreen enclave where the Aronsons had moved two doors from the Quigleys that August. Most of the complaints were about such earth-shattering matters as dogs running loose and landscape rocks mysteriously disappearing. But on October 20 Candice Aronson reported that William Quigley had threatened her with his car. A sheriff's deputy responded and determined that "no traffic violations can be substantiated, no further action will be taken." Wrong. Three days later, lawyer and former ADL chair Gary Lozow called a friend at the Jeffco DA's office.

In late fall 1994, we were contacted about a neighborhood dispute occuring in Evergreen, Colorado. Our office and the sheriff's department conducted an investigation. That investigation, assigned to the sheriff's department on November 17, consisted almost entirely of a sheriff's investigator reading transcripts--helpfully provided by the Aronsons--of twelve tapes the couple had made over the preceding month while eavesdropping on their neighbors' phone conversations with a scanner. And the Aronsons did so with the DA's knowledge, if not his encouragement.

In December 1994, we filed charges alleging that Mr. and Mrs. William Quigley had violated Colorado's ethnic intimidation statute. On December 6, the Aronsons filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit against the Quigleys, which they announced at a press conference with Rosenthal at their side. Conveniently, the Jeffco sheriff's investigator gave his report on the Quigley investigation to Thomas the next day. The DA's charges against the Quigleys were filed December 9--before anyone from the DA's office had so much as spoken to the Quigleys.

Later that same month, we concluded that there was no basis for these charges. By then, a deputy DA had actually listened to the tapes and realized that not only were the transcripts edited selectively, but any anti-Semitic comments on them, however distasteful, did not constitute a case for ethnic intimidation. They were private conversations, not public threats.

Accordingly, the charges were dismissed on the merits, upon motion of the District Attorney's Office, in January 1995. This letter is to make it clear that neither the District Attorney's Office, nor the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department, knows of any evidence, whether admissible in court or not, proving that Mr. and Mrs. William J. Quigley violated Colorado's laws against ethnic intimidation by engaging in anti-Semitic conduct or harassment or by engaging in any other form of ethnic intimidation against any other religious or racial group. Now the DA's office blames confusion over an October 25, 1994, change in federal wiretapping laws as reason for any inappropriate use of the Aronsons' tapes--but when the DA initially filed the charges, his spokesman said the DA's office had fully researched the ramifications of that law.

Our filing and our prosecution of these charges was a mistake. We have apologized to the Quigleys for that mistake.

But the DA has one more apology to make--and it shouldn't take a threatened lawsuit to squeeze it out of him. The apology is due a woman whose name is literally Mudd.

Joy Mudd was another resident of this distinctly unneighborly neighborhood. When the DA charged the Quigleys, he also charged Mudd with one felony count of conspiracy to commit ethnic intimidation (which carries a sentence of up to two years), and two misdemeanor counts of conspiracy; among the evidence against her was a transcribed conversation with Dee Quigley in which the Aronsons were referred to as "those fucking loud New York Jews." Mudd's photograph, as well as distasteful comments about painting an oven door on the Aronsons' house and throwing soap and lampshades on their lawn, made the front page and ten o'clock news.

But Joy Mudd never had that conversation with Dee Quigley. As the DA's office ultimately admitted, Mudd had been wrongly identified on the Aronsons' transcript--and wrongly charged.

Mudd learned of those charges from a lawyer who'd seen the filing and wanted to know if she needed representation. Her first death threat was delivered that same evening.

Joy Mudd and her family have since left Colorado.
When chastising Westword for its coverage, Thomas was quick to defend the honor of his office: "We attempt to dispense justice in an even-handed and fair manner in every case presented to our office."

Tell that to Joy Mudd.

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