Peeps prejudice?: Easter week trial takes on bunny bias
On March 30 and 31, a trial in Boulder County Court will tackle an issue of tremendous importance -- one that could impact the way in which all Americans worship and celebrate a higher power.
The case involves Carol "Chay" Burdick, a Boulder resident who received an eviction threat at her apartment complex, managed by a corporation called AIMCO, after mounting a six-inch pyramid of bunny-shaped Peeps over her door and leaving it there six days past Easter 2009. But Burdick refused to remove this sacred display, beginning one of the more bizarre legal odysseys since the discovery of the marshmallow.
Burdick's attorney, John Pineau, didn't make his client available for comment, and he, too, declined to chat, presumably because he doesn't want the judge who'll hear the matter to think he's trying the case in the press. After all, l'affair Pepps has already been the subject of a segment that aired last September on The Colbert Report, during which Pineau characterized AIMCO's argument as claiming that Peeps were the equivalent of garbage -- "and by calling Peeps 'garbage,' you do risk saying that Jesus Christ is garbage."
Yes, Pineau did add, "They haven't formally called Jesus 'garbage'" -- to which Colbert, in a voiceover, responded, "Close enough." But the lawyer did declare: "The one word I'd use to describe this case is 'stupid.'"
Maybe so: After all, Pineau is reportedly planning to call Peeps "experts" like Emily and Erik Miller, who placed third in a Denver Post Peeps diorama contest last year, to disprove that "garbage" assertion -- one AIMCO may or may not be making. But court documents like an unopposed motion for joinder and accompanying photo exhibits demonstrate that Pineau isn't simply hoping that the controversy will be laughed out of court.
According to the document, Burdick received a phone call from an AIMCO rep after Easter, who told her the Peeps display violated her lease. Since the agreement only nixed actions that were prohibited by law or the lease itself, or would permanently damage the property -- and because other tenants had decorative displays outside their apartments and didn't object to her salute to sugary goodness -- Burdick declined. Two days later, a notice was affixed to her door that read:
Demand is hereby made upon you that you comply with the terms and conditions of your lease as noted above, which you have violated, or quit and deliver up the undersigned possession and said premises, withing THREE (3) DAYS of the service of this Demand, and failing to do so, you will be guilty of an unlawful detention of said premises contrary to the landlord-tenant law of this jurisdiction, and you will be subject to legal eviction proceedings.
Shortly thereafter, the motion continues, "agents for AIMCO tore down Ms. Burdick's decorations and destroyed her property." Pineau's filing maintains that this conduct "amounts to constructive eviction, breach of contract, negligence, negligence per se (criminal mischief), and negligent misrepresentation," giving Burdick the right to "treat the lease as terminated, vacate the premises, and stop paying rent" -- which she did.
Seven days later, the motion contends, "AIMCO switched tact and served Ms. Burdick with a second notice of eviction based on non-payment of rent" -- a move that "was illegal and a fraud for a number of reasons, including that it amounts to AIMCO's attempt to extract rent from Ms. Burdick based on a lease that AIMCO had terminated through its previous wrongful eviction," the document states.
On May 18, Burdick, who suffers from lupus and various other health conditions, was hospitalized to have her gall bladder removed. Less than a week later, she had to go to court to answer AIMCO's complaint for eviction and possession of the apartment. She and Pineau answered with a counterclaim, and a trial date was set for June 24.
That date was later vacated because Burdick had moved out -- but AIMCO then assigned the Burdick matter to Continental, a collection agency, which filed another lawsuit against her.
In the end, all the gripes against Burdick were bundled together and will be heard next week, only days before Easter. When people all over the country may well thumbtack pyramids of Peeps over their doorways in solidarity with the little lady with a fondness for bunnies.
Look below to watch the aforementioned Colbert Report piece, complete with responses from an AIMCO rep whose words are illustrated by, among other things, an image of Pinhead from Hellraiser:
|The Colbert Report||Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
|Easter Under Attack - Peeps Display|
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Westword's biggest stories.