Vendetta

Who's a bigger nuisance -- Douglas Bruce or Denver's property police?

Bruce viewed the evening session as an effort to coerce a speedy guilty verdict. In his closing, he urged the jury to reject the "bizarre case" the city was trying to make against him, "this totally corrupt, stupid, bureaucratic nightmare...this farce of a process."

Nelson objected that Bruce was making a "jury nullification argument." C de Baca cautioned Bruce not to make any more "improper" statements. But Bruce didn't think it was improper to take issue with the city's notion of what made a building unsafe.

"If the law said that painting a building blue makes it unsafe, would that make it so?" he asked. "Would you just suspend all your common sense and go act like robots?"

 
William Taylor
 
Man on a mission: Douglas Bruce tangled repeatedly with Denver officials over his properties.
Anthony Camera
Man on a mission: Douglas Bruce tangled repeatedly with Denver officials over his properties.

Once again, Nelson objected that Bruce was telling the jury to disregard the law. C de Baca agreed.

"You have to deliberate on the basis of what you heard," Bruce continued. "If, based upon that, you convict me, and then you go outside the courtroom and you find out what Paul Harvey called 'the rest of the story,' you're going to be sick to your stomach."

C de Baca summoned Bruce to the bench for a third time. "Mr. Bruce, you know that is an improper argument," she said. "If you do it one more time, even I will have the sheriff down here."

Bruce decided to end his statement there rather than risk the judge's wrath. But it was already too late. After a brisk ninety minutes of deliberation, the jury returned with a guilty verdict. C de Baca then announced that Bruce's closing argument had been "an affront to the dignity of the Court...a deliberate act designed to potentially cause a mistrial." She had decided to impose a sentence for contempt, in addition to his violation of the building code.

At his sentencing hearing three weeks later, C de Baca slapped Bruce with a fifteen-day jail sentence. When he attempted to object, she cut him off, telling him, "There is no appeal of contempt."

Bruce maintains that it was the judge who was in contempt -- of the law. "When was the last time somebody went to jail in Colorado for two weeks for contempt?" he asks. "I didn't violate an order. I didn't cause a disruption. I was just making a jury argument. Every defendant is trying to be found not guilty, or at least get a hung jury, but she says I'm trying to cause a mistrial.

"She said her findings were unappealable. The lowest-level judge in Colorado, and I can't appeal her ruling? She said I had no right to bail, no right to appeal, no right to a stay -- all of which is a lie. And she arranged to have the TV cameras there so they could show me being led away in handcuffs."

According to state statute and the rules governing county court civil procedures, a defendant has a right to appeal a contempt judgment -- a little detail that U.S. District Judge Lewis Babcock pointed out when Bruce appealed to the federal court for relief. Bruce ended up serving eight days in the Denver County Jail on Smith Road before he could arrange a bail hearing. During that time, he subsisted on a liquid diet and refused to bathe -- until staff hustled him into a shower in the middle of the night.

"I wanted to let them know they weren't going to break me, so I didn't eat for a week," he recalls. "Just to let them know I could take anything they dish out."

After ten years on the bench, C de Baca resigned her judgeship two years ago; she is now the human resources manager at Coors Distributing. She defends her handling of the Bruce trial, which won praise from prosecutors for her ability to "control" a difficult defendant.

"I've never had a defendant who behaved in such a manner and so blatantly and repeatedly ignored direct orders of the court," she says. "In my opinion, the trial was conducted consistent with the rules of procedure and with no bias toward Mr. Bruce. His behavior warranted the penalty that was imposed."

Bruce has taken his acerbic appeals of the case from one jurisdiction to the next, demanding a hearing and never getting one. (Sample appeal issue: "Was the trial judge too mentally or emotionally unstable, or so at variance with reality, that she should not have handled the case?") Last fall he filed a motion for a new trial with Denver County Chief Judge Raymond Satter, claiming "newly discovered exculpatory evidence" that he hopes will help him erase his one criminal conviction. He's received no response.

The motion blasts not only Judge C de Baca, but also prosecutor Nelson, whom Bruce accuses of suborning perjury. At issue is yet another citation that a building inspector attempted to serve on Bruce at his arraignment, then retrieved, then later denied having issued. Bruce argues that the citation, a copy of which he obtained after the trial, is evidence of the city's overkill tactics. He also claims that Nelson "solicited a bribe from me in open court" by offering to buy the Tremont property from him for a dollar "and get this whole case over with."

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