Curses on Both Houses

The ugly Quigley-Aronson dispute keeps getting uglier.

Nine months ago, Paul Cooper, a Denver attorney, wrote a letter to another local attorney, Jay Horowitz. The two lawyers represent different parties in the infamous ethnic-intimidation/wiretapping dispute between two Evergreen families, the Aronsons and the Quigleys. "Dear Jay," the November 20, 1996, letter began, cordially enough.

"When I asked you to send me a letter that I could show my client confirming your position that it was sent to him by mistake, you told me, 'Fuck you, Paul,' a phrase with which you seem to be enamored. I told you not to tell me to fuck myself anymore and that you were unbelievable, and hung up the phone."

Nearly three years after it began, the rancorous public dispute between the two wealthy foothills families is far from over. And not only have the Quigleys and Aronsons been unable to untangle their differences in court, but the vitriol and profanity initially displayed by the neighbors have grown and spread, like a discourteous infectious disease, to nearly everyone who has gotten sucked into the affair.

The two families' discordant history goes back several years. In 1993, William Quigley, an executive with United Artists, his wife, Dee, and three children moved to a high-priced Evergreen subdivision called The Ridge. The following year, the Aronsons--Mitchell, Candice and their four children--moved in one door down.

Although they seemed to get along at first, relations between the two families disintegrated within three months. By the fall of 1994, the Aronsons and Quigleys had filed dueling complaints with Jefferson County authorities regarding each other's dogs. Later, each of the neighbors protested the behavior of the other's children. On October 20, 1994, the dispute climaxed when William Quigley allegedly pointed his car at Candice Aronson and nearly hit her while driving by.

By then, the Aronsons had found that they could intercept their neighbors' phone conversations on a home scanner; they later explained that they had discovered these snooping capabilities by accident. But as relations continued to deteriorate, they continued to tape the Quigleys' phone calls. Subsequent court documents indicate that they were indiscriminate eavesdroppers.

Between October 20 and December 6 of 1994, Mitchell and Candice Aronson taped private telephone conversations between Bill and Dee Quigley and between Dee and her neighbors. They taped Dee speaking to her out-of-town relatives, to the local elementary school, to local carpet-cleaning and landscaping companies, to a dog groomer and to her bank and credit-card company. They taped Bill speaking to his grandmother, to his kids and to a ski shop. The Aronsons eventually hired a transcriber to type up 1,200 pages' worth of their neighbors' conversations--and even that was an incomplete record of the tapes.

Snippets of a few of the conversations contained what seemed to be the Quigleys making anti-Semitic remarks about the Aronsons, although it later appeared as though the Quigleys were sharing a private, if distasteful, joke. On December 9, 1994, Jefferson County District Attorney Dave Thomas, relying on portions of the tapes turned over to him by the Aronsons and under pressure from the Anti-Defamation League, which the Aronsons had consulted, filed a dozen separate ethnic-intimidation charges against the Quigleys and another neighbor.

Six weeks later, upon closer review of the tapes, Thomas dropped all of the charges but one, a felony menacing charge against William Quigley for the car incident. In July 1995, Quigley, while admitting no guilt, accepted a charge of reckless driving. He paid a $200 fine to settle the misdemeanor traffic violation.

Still, the criminal charges and the resulting bad publicity made the Quigleys livid. It also seemed increasingly clear that the tapes the district attorney had relied upon to file charges against the Quigleys had been obtained in violation of newly enacted federal wiretapping statutes.

In light of that information, it looked like the Quigleys might have a legitimate lawsuit against the Jefferson County DA's office and the sheriff's department. Thomas apparently agreed: In December 1995, he apologized to the Quigleys and agreed to pay the family $75,000 ($25,000 from the sheriff's department) to head off any legal action.

That might have seemed to be the end of the matter. In fact, it was just the beginning.

On December 6, 1994, three days before Thomas filed the criminal charges against the Quigleys, the Aronsons filed a civil lawsuit against their neighbors in U.S. District Court, accusing them of orchestrating an anti-Semitic-inspired conspiracy to hound them from the neighborhood. Nine months later, the Aronsons' insurance company filed another lawsuit in an effort to decide whether their homeowners' insurance would cover legal fees (it does, partially).

And in November 1995, the Quigleys responded with their own civil lawsuit (initially filed in Jefferson County, it was later moved to federal court). Claiming violations of wiretapping laws, the Quigleys asked for $5 million in damages from the Aronsons, their attorneys and the Anti-Defamation League and its director, Saul Rosenthal, who had sponsored a press conference with the Aronsons to accuse the Quigleys of being Jew-haters.

The families' lawsuits against each other have since been combined into what federal Judge Edward Nottingham recently termed "a quagmire." At one point last fall, the families seemed to be close to settling their differences, but whatever deal was in the works apparently fell through. (The settlement proposals are sealed from public view.) As a result, despite the passage of a considerable amount of time and the vast paperwork they have generated, in the past year the lawsuits have barely budged, as lawyers for both sides jockey on small matters of procedure.

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