By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
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By Melanie Asmar
Bastard idiot lying crooks.
Douglas Bruce doesn't mince words. Charm and cajolery are not his strong suits. The state's foremost anti-tax activist has been known to accuse state legislators of being both exceedingly greedy and hopelessly stupid, to question their sanity as well as their honesty, to scold and bully and upbraid the very people he's trying to persuade to do the right thing -- which, in Bruce's view, usually comes down to keeping their mitts off the wallets of hardworking, God-fearing taxpayers like Douglas Bruce.
If you really want to get Bruce going, don't bother mentioning the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR), the 1992 tax limitation amendment he authored that changed the way government operates in Colorado. And never mind the many ballot initiatives he's launched since, usually at his own expense, in a quixotic attempt to rein in big-spending politicians and bloated road projects. No, that was all...just...politics. If you really want his best stuff, the rant to end all rants, ask him about his long-running, very personal battle with Denver officials over various dilapidated buildings he's owned around town, a battle that's dragged on through a decade of administrative hearings, trials, appeals and dismissals -- and isn't over yet.
Ask him, and then run for high ground as the tide of vituperation rolls in.
"Denver tried to brand me as a criminal, and I resent the hell out of it," he says. "These are truly corrupt and evil people.... I had to go through this trial with this nightmare judge who doesn't know shit from shinola...totally incompetent...and this other judge is the guy who said I didn't manage my financial affairs very well, and then he filed bankruptcy and claimed he had only $50 in cash...no question, it was a vendetta.... They put the word out to contractors that if you work for Doug Bruce, you're on their shit list...because they're bastards, that's why...out-and-out crooks...liars..."
Crooked lying idiotic bastards.
Sitting in his living room in Colorado Springs, surrounded by boxes of trial transcripts and pleadings, Bruce offers example after example of what he regards as a petty bureaucratic campaign to humiliate, impoverish and destroy him. Since 1992, Denver officials have issued dozens of citations against his boarded-up properties, many of which remained vacant for years, targets for vandalism, graffiti and arson. They've fined him in excess of $300,000, the largest sum ever assessed against an absentee landlord in the city's history. Three years ago, they even slapped liens on an entire city block he owned and tried to close down one of his rental units as a public nuisance, all because a Baggie of cocaine was found on the property.
"It's probably cost Denver at least $100,000 to prosecute me," Bruce says. "If I had to hire an attorney, it would have cost me a hundred grand in legal fees. Plus, it's cost me a lot of time and aggravation."
But over the years, Bruce has managed to get every fine, every charge, every case overturned or dismissed -- all but one, a 1995 conviction for "maintaining an unsafe building" that resulted in a fine of $523. The county judge in that case, Celeste C de Baca, also threw Bruce in jail for contempt of court. Bruce still seethes at the memory of that episode, and he has filed a lonely string of appeals stretching from Denver District Court to the federal 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, in an effort to overturn the judge's rulings.
"My goal is to restore my good name," Bruce says. "I can't get back the eight days I spent in jail. But if you hang in there long enough, you always seem to get vindicated."
Recently, Bruce took his crusade to the State Capitol, where he testified in support of House Bill 1404, an effort to reform Colorado's criminal forfeiture law. Sponsored by state representative Shawn Mitchell and state senator Bill Thiebaut, the legislation has stirred consternation and cries of doom among prosecutors and police agencies, since it requires a criminal conviction, in most instances, before the government can seize cash, property and other assets tied to drug-dealing or other crimes. Backed by an unlikely coalition of civil libertarians and conservatives beating the drum for private-property rights, HB 1404 survived dilution and stalling tactics in both houses. The bill now awaits the signature of Governor Bill Owens.
The new state legislation won't affect Bruce's situation; his battles have to do with local building codes and Denver's controversial public-nuisance ordinance, which allows for temporary seizure or closure of property rather than outright forfeiture. Still, he relished the opportunity to recount for legislators the "gross constitutional violations" Denver had heaped on him. And as a former deputy district attorney in California, he was more than slightly amused at the howls of protest raised by DAs and their allies, including a sharp letter of objection from the governor himself.
"They say the bill is helping criminals," Bruce notes. "But that's the issue: Are you innocent until proven guilty? I used to be a prosecutor. I know more in the tip of my pinkie about crime and law enforcement than Owens does in his whole body. The issue is that the government can act like criminals, and they should have to prove their case before they take someone's property."