On paper--certain pieces of it, anyway--David Shortridge looks like a clear favorite to win a seat on the board of the Regional Transportation District in November's election. Shortridge, a member of the town council in Nederland, has experience as an elected official, while his opponent, thirty-year-old businessman Jon Caldara, is a political neophyte. Shortridge already has two years under his belt as a director of the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG), an umbrella agency that mulls transit issues. And Shortridge has beaten out Caldara for the endorsement of the RTD drivers' union.
"He [Caldara] seems like a very nice young man," says the 58-year-old Shortridge. "I like him a great deal. However, when you come down to the nuts and bolts of it, he's not qualified [for the RTD], and I am."
But court documents, papers from a criminal case file and other records show that David Howard Shortridge has a troubled past--to put it mildly. Over the last fifteen years he's been sued at least six times by creditors seeking to collect debts ranging from bank loans to a stock purchase. And Shortridge has sued others with abandon. He brought a claim against the Colorado Department of Transportation after he fell off a pedestrian bridge in Nederland in 1984. Five years later he sued the local newspaper for libel. When the manager of the Palace Hotel in Cripple Creek contacted Shortridge's landlord to collect an allegedly unpaid bar tab, Shortridge sued the manager, the hotel, the city of Cripple Creek, the Cripple Creek police chief and his landlord, seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages. This spring he tried to get a court injunction against Nederland mayor Bryan Brown when Brown moved to replace Shortridge as mayor protem of the town.
Shortridge's son, David Jr., was convicted of manslaughter in 1980 after he stabbed his roommate to death with a butcher knife. And Shortridge appears to have a criminal history of his own: Records show that a man with the same name and same date of birth was convicted of trying to get two women, one of them a Denver police officer, to work as prostitutes for him in 1975. Just last month the town of Nederland hired a special prosecutor after two of Shortridge's political enemies accused him of harassing them with late-night phone calls.
Shortridge makes no apologies for his problems. He says the string of lawsuits against him stem from financial setbacks he experienced after a congenital eye disease robbed him of most of his sight years ago. In suing others, he says, he is merely exercising a constitutional right. His son's criminal past, he says, is "totally irrelevant" to his campaign for the RTD board. And he denies that he's the same man who was convicted of arranging for prostitution in Denver nineteen years back. "I have no criminal record," he claims.
But John Lewis, a longtime Nederland resident and one of Shortridge's political foes, says Shortridge's history shows he isn't fit for office. "He promotes himself as being cleaner than Ivory soap," Lewis says. But "he has a very poor character. He has his own agenda--and that's David Shortridge."
The Regional Transportation District is one of Colorado's largest and most important government agencies, making decisions about mass transit that affect 2 million residents in the metropolitan area. The RTD can condemn land. It levies a sales tax. And it spends more than $300 million a year operating the area's bus service, running Denver's new light-rail system and funding other improvements to the regional transportation infrastructure.
Still, many people don't seem to know the agency exists. And for years the RTD has managed to attract a string of candidates known for personal problems and political gaffes.
Director Ben Klein is a convicted felon whose own attorneys in the past have described him as a "textbook example of a chronic paranoid schizophrenic" ("Life on the Edge," March 23). He's running for re-election unopposed. Kevin Sampson, a boardmember for the last seven years, was charged in April with three counts of sexual assault on a child. Sampson, who is stepping down next month, pleaded innocent at his arraignment in court last week. In August three incumbent directors were kicked off the RTD ballot by the secretary of state because they bungled their candidacy petitions. One unopposed candidate who did make the ballot, business consultant Brian Propp, has publicly mocked the very agency he now hopes to help run, joking at a recent political meeting that RTD stands for "Reason to Drive."
"Somehow, the democratic process doesn't seem to be working when it comes to RTD," says state representative Vi June of Westminster, whose husband served as an RTD director from 1986 to 1990. "We need bright, sharp, articulate people on that board. I think the [voters] are being shortchanged, but they're shortchanging themselves by not electing good people."
Until 1980, the governing board's fifteen members were appointed by county commissioners in the six metro-area counties encompassed by the RTD. With a ballot initiative that year, however, the electorate gave itself the power to choose boardmembers on its own.
The RTD's District O seat--which David Shortridge is running for--is geographically the agency's largest, comprising the city of Boulder and the entire western portion of Boulder County. For the last four years the seat has been held by the current RTD chairman, Ken Hotard, who has decided not to run again.
Shortridge insists he's the man for the job. He sits on all of DRCOG's transportation committees. He served a two-year stint as Nederland's commissioner of economic development. He's a member of groups like the Boulder County Consortium of Cities, the Boulder County Aging Advisory Council and the Colorado Association of Ski Towns.
And because Shortridge is legally blind, he says, he must rely on RTD to get around.
"I'm in a unique situation that allows me, on an everyday basis, to interact with and listen to the users of RTD public transportation," says Shortridge, who suffers from a condition called retinitis pigmentosa. Caldara, meanwhile, "doesn't to my knowledge have any background in transportation issues."
The son of a retired U.S. Air Force officer, Shortridge has lived in Colorado for the past 25 years. He describes himself as a retired stockbroker with years of experience at Paine Webber and other firms on Denver's 17th Street. Once widowed and once divorced, he has four children and three grandchildren. He notes that he works as a volunteer probation officer and serves as a deacon and Sunday-school teacher at Nederland Presbyterian Church.
Court records paint a somewhat different picture, however. On loan applications in the early 1980s, Shortridge said he had spent the previous twenty years working in "accounting" at a Boulder firm he founded called Bhort-Carney. Today he says Bhort-Carney was a business he founded on the side to deal in rare stamps and other "philatelic properties." On other occasions, Shortridge said that his only income came from monthly Social Security Disability checks. In 1982, for instance, he asked a judge to allow him to litigate a civil case without paying any court fees because he couldn't afford them. "Because of my poverty," Shortridge wrote, "I am unable to pay the costs of the proceeding."
In 1992 Shortridge filed as a candidate for the Colorado House of Representatives but was later disqualified on a technicality by the secretary of state. Nederland resident John Lewis says that indicates "without a doubt" that Shortridge has political ambitions beyond the RTD--and that he would use his position as a director as a "stepping stone" to higher political office. "He does nothing except support himself," Lewis says.
Shortridge, however, complains that Lewis has been gunning for him since last spring, when Lewis ran unsuccessfully for the Nederland town council. At a candidates' forum held for the benefit of voters in March, Shortridge says, he publicized Lewis's conviction and prison sentence for the attempted sale of cocaine in 1978. Shortridge says he read a statement at the forum, calling Lewis a "sociopath" who "treats this town as his personal, private prison yard."
Shortly afterward, Lewis and David Clyne, a former Nederland town administrator, both accused Shortridge of making harassing, late-night phone calls to their homes. Every Saturday for several weeks, both claim, their telephones rang after midnight. When they answered, they encountered silence on the other end of the line.
On May 8, after the caller rang again, both men asked the telephone company to trace the calls. US West investigated and, according to Nederland marshal Hugh Pitzer, determined that the calls that evening had come from David Shortridge's home.
Shortridge, Pitzer says, admitted he'd phoned the men that night but said he'd had normal conversations with both. Pitzer forwarded the case to the Boulder County district attorney, who declined to press charges.
Clyne and Lewis then complained to the town trustees, who eventually hired a special prosecutor to look into the matter. The prosecutor, Louisville attorney Curt Rautenstraus, recommended that the town drop the case, saying that the controversy "may relate to a longstanding dispute between the parties."
Today, Shortridge calls Lewis and Clyne's accusations about the phone calls "outright lies." Lewis, he says, hates him because of his harangue at the candidates' forum last spring. And he says Clyne, an attorney, is out to get him because Shortridge filed a complaint against him with the grievance committee of the Colorado Supreme Court. Rautenstraus's finding, Shortridge says, proves the whole imbroglio was trumped up by Clyne and Lewis merely because of the grudges they hold against him. "It's over with," Shortridge says.
Clyne, meanwhile, says the only reason criminal charges weren't brought against Shortridge is that he is a member of the Nederland town council. "He's managed to abuse his powers in office to avoid prosecution," Clyne says.
The phone-call brouhaha is just the latest in a long series of legal entanglements involving David Shortridge over the past decade and a half. Since 1980, records in the county and district courts in Boulder show, Shortridge has been a plaintiff or a defendant in civil litigation at least twelve times.
Several of the suits stemmed from Shortridge's failure to pay his bills. In 1986, for example, Avco Boulder Industrial Bank sued Shortridge for $4,900 he owed on a revolving loan account. Rather than repay the debt, Shortridge countersued the bank for $20,000, alleging "contract fraud and misrepresentation." A judge threw out Shortridge's claim and ordered him to pay Avco its money plus interest and court costs.
In 1991, Olde Discount Corporation, a Detroit-based stock brokerage, sued Shortridge after he placed an order for 1,000 shares in a company called CTA. The transaction was worth about $4,200, but Shortridge, according to court papers, failed to pay for the shares, and the company was forced to sell out the entire order at a loss. Olde Discount demanded that Shortridge make up the difference.
In 1992 Boulder physician Mary Maxwell sued Shortridge for $343 in medical care she said he had received but not paid for. "Even though Medicare paid him for my services, he has only made three $25 payments to me," Maxwell said in her complaint. Maxwell eventually attempted to garnishee Shortridge's bank account, but Shortridge filed papers in court claiming the $195 he had in the bank was exempt from garnishment because it all came from his Social Security Disability checks.
And late last month, Bank One in Boulder had to go to court to reinstate an unpaid judgment against Shortridge that dated back to 1986.
Shortridge, according to court papers, had run up a $4,900 debt on a line of credit with the bank but had never paid it back. The bank ran into difficulty collecting from the start: Neither a bank officer nor a private detective was able to find Shortridge to serve him papers related to the lawsuit. The bank officer thought he located Shortridge walking around Nederland--an employee at the local post office pointed him out as he passed by--but Shortridge disappeared into a doorway, according to court papers. When the officer knocked on the door, the person who answered denied knowing Shortridge and insisted he wasn't there.
Shortridge later countersued the bank for $150,000, alleging contract fraud, misrepresentation, defamation and "fraudulent collection practices." A judge dismissed that claim and ordered Shortridge to pay the bank more than $8,000, which included interest and court costs as well as $2.44 for every day the debt remained unpaid.
This September, the bank's attorney, William Ahlstrand, was back in Boulder District Court seeking to "revive" the judgment against Shortridge--a procedural move that must be undertaken every six years while the debt remains unpaid. "He claims he doesn't have any money," Ahlstrand says. The attorney declines further comment.
Shortridge says the judgments against him were the result of a financial reversal that occurred after he lost his sight. He says he quit working, made a series of bad investments and wound up deep in debt. He says he's strived to repay his creditors and claims today that he has wiped the slate nearly clean. "My creditors are happy with my approach to repayment," he says. "Just about everything has been repaid."
Boulder Creek divides the town of Nederland in half, and the only way, back in 1984, to get from one side to the other was to walk across a small bridge that served both pedestrians and automobiles. On October 1 of that year, David Shortridge was walking south across the bridge when he met a car coming in the other direction. Shortridge stepped out of the way to avoid being hit--and tumbled ten feet into the creek bed.
Shortridge sued the state Department of Transportation, claiming he'd suffered "serious and extremely painful injuries." The state was responsible, he claimed, because it had neglected to put guardrails on the bridge to prevent people from falling off.
The case was eventually settled out of court. But it was far from the only claim filed by David Shortridge over the last several years. Shortridge has sued other parties at least seven times, alleging everything from assault to libel to intentional infliction of emotional distress.
"You can say I'm litigious," Shortridge says. But he adds that there's nothing wrong with seeking judicial redress. "If you cannot solve your problems with mediation and arbitration, then you have a right to take your grievance to the court," he says.
One of Shortridge's targets, however, has accused Shortridge of deliberately "setting people up" for lawsuits in order to make a living. Richard J. Humpal, a former Boulder police officer whom Shortridge sued for assault in 1980, alleged in court papers that Shortridge "has a history of filing suits to gain money."
At the time of the suit, Shortridge was living in a Boulder mobile-home park owned by Humpal's mother, Irene, and, according to court papers, was four months behind in his rent. On April 9, 1980, Richard Humpal went to Shortridge's trailer to ask him when he intended to make payment. Shortridge let Humpal in, but as soon as he stepped over the threshold, Humpal claimed in court papers, he heard a woman inside the trailer screaming into the phone to a police dispatcher that she and Shortridge were being attacked by an intruder. Humpal said he went to the phone, told the dispatcher that nothing was happening and then left to find his mother. Shortridge, meanwhile, "was waving a stick around and acting like he was crazy."
Shortridge sued Humpal for $170,000, claiming that Humpal had pushed him down as he came into the trailer. Shortridge alleged that, because of Humpal, he had suffered "loss of consciousness, emergency medical treatment, impairment of mood, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of dignity, mental anguish and humiliation." A judge eventually dismissed the claim and ordered Shortridge to pay Irene Humpal the rent he owed. "He's an absolute nightmare," says Humpal, now an attorney in California. "He's very intelligent, and he knows exactly what he's doing. That's what's so scary about him."
Shortridge dismisses Humpal's claim that he was "set up," saying the accusation shouldn't be taken seriously. And he says there's no reason his penchant for suits ought to bother the voters. Why, he asks, should he be punished merely for exercising his constitutional right? "I'm no different than any other citizen," Shortridge says.
Shortridge's son, David Howard Shortridge Jr., has a legal history much more extensive than his father's. Colorado Bureau of Investigation records show that between 1973 and 1983 he was arrested more than a dozen times--for larceny, burglary, assault, possession of marijuana and other crimes.
But by far his most serious offense was the killing of eighteen-year-old Thomas David Noskoff in December 1979. Noskoff and Shortridge were roommates in an Aurora apartment, and the problem, Noskoff's family remembers, was that the younger Shortridge, then 24, turned out to be a freeloader. For several weeks, the family members say, David had failed to pay Tom for his share of the rent and other living expenses. "My son was paying all the bills," says Noskoff's father, Tom Sr.
On the night of Sunday, December 9, according to Noskoff's family, Tom began to pester David for the money he owed him, and the pair began to argue. Shortridge, Noskoff's family says, jumped in his truck and tried to drive away. Tom grabbed Shortridge to prevent him from leaving. When Tom reached for him, Shortridge picked up a nine-inch butcher knife off the truck's dashboard and plunged it into Noskoff's heart.
"It was cold-blooded, as far as I'm concerned," says Tom's sister Renee, now a resident of Eugene, Oregon. "My brother never would have hurt him."
The following October, Shortridge pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter and was sentenced to four years in prison.
David Shortridge Jr. could not be reached for comment, and his father refuses to discuss his son's conviction. But Shortridge says his son's problems have no bearing whatsoever on the RTD race. "My son's not running for office," the elder Shortridge says. "I am."
David H. Shortridge Sr. seems to have a criminal past as well--a past he has taken steps to conceal. According to records on file at Boulder County court, Shortridge was charged in 1975 with "pandering"--soliciting two women, one a Metropolitan State College student, the other a Denver police officer, to work for him as prostitutes.
Police affidavits filed in connection with the case say that Shortridge asked the student to work as a prostitute "on several occasions" between April 1974 and March 1975. "In return he would give her money and a place to stay," the affidavit says. In April 1975, the affidavit says, Shortridge also propositioned Denver vice cop R.B. McCall, saying that "if she would give him all the money she earned as a prostitute, he would take care of her."
The affidavit and other records are filed in Boulder County District Court as part of an unrelated civil case in which Shortridge sued the city of Cripple Creek and four other parties following an incident involving an allegedly unpaid bar tab at the Palace Hotel. They indicate that in January 1977 a jury found Shortridge guilty on two misdemeanor counts of arranging for prostitution, but they do not indicate what Shortridge's sentence was. The original Denver County Court file has been destroyed and is not available for review.
Shortridge denies the criminal papers refer to him. "It's not true," he says. "I have no sealed record."
Records on microfilm in Denver District Court indicate otherwise. In February 1980, they show, someone named David H. Shortridge petitioned a judge to seal his criminal file for pandering from public view. The request, written on Shortridge's behalf by attorney Howard Mullen, notes that "the petitioner suffers from the disease known as retinitis pigmentosa." The petitioner's date of birth, the records say, is March 5, 1936--the same as that of Shortridge the RTD candidate. And the signature of the defendant in the criminal case appears to match the signature recorded in a number of Shortridge's civil suits.
The Shortridge charged with pandering claimed his file should be sealed because he wanted to get a job with the federal government helping to rehabilitate others who suffered from his eye disease. "The petitioner is an exemplary citizen," the request reads, "and not a danger to the peace and safety of the community."
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Jon Caldara, David Shortridge's opponent in the RTD race, says that if elected to the board, he will propose increasing the use of minivans throughout the city of Boulder. That, he says, will boost the RTD's efficiency, make things more convenient for riders and reduce air pollution, since the buses can run on natural gas.
Caldara, who runs a Boulder stage-lighting company, admits he's a political outsider with no experience in elected office. "I'm not a politician," Caldara says. But he says traffic has gotten so bad in Boulder that the city needs strong representation on the RTD board and that he is ready to take on the job. "I don't believe RTD is serving Boulder well at all," Caldara says. Caldara refuses to discuss Shortridge's controversial past. "That's his own business," he says.
Shortridge, meanwhile, says that if elected, he would propose the creation of a new route that would connect Nederland to Lyons and other small towns like Raymond and Peaceful Valley, which currently have no direct access to RTD. "That way, we'll have a route that goes the whole circle here in the mountains," he says. He also says RTD should promote trails and bike paths and revamp the bus-route system in Boulder to make it easier to get across town.
Shortridge urges voters not to weigh his past too heavily when they make their decision in November. He says his transportation credentials--his position with DRCOG, his experience as a Nederland trustee, his seat on the RTD's "paratransit committee" for disabled riders--make him an excellent choice for director. Adds Shortridge, "I am exceptionally well qualified for this RTD board.