Curses on Both Houses

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.

In fact, a seemingly pivotal issue--whether the Aronsons' tapes of the Quigleys' phone conversations can be used as evidence--was decided earlier this year, but only partially. On February 7 Judge Nottingham finally ruled that the tapes could be listened to by attorneys for all parties--but only for the purposes of determining whether they were made legally or illegally.

In the meantime, the slow pace and bitter nature of the dispute seems to have infected the families' lawyers. On April 15, 1996, a settlement conference in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Edward Schlatter was abruptly cut short when Horowitz engaged in "a profanity-laced tirade" that could be heard outside the judge's chambers.

The Quigleys' lawyer sent a letter of apology to Schlatter the following day. With the exception of the opening sentence--"This letter is to apologize to the Court for the anger which I displayed during a portion of yesterday's Settlement Conference"--the entire copy of the letter in the court file is blacked out. Horowitz declines comment on the incident.

In a document filed earlier this year, lawyers for the ADL recommended that Horowitz's delay tactics and foul language deserved punishment. "The Quigleys' counsel has engaged in behavior in this case which suggests that [several] motions were filed not for legitimate reasons, but instead to vent the Quigleys' and their counsel's emotions, cause the Defendants to expend attorneys' fees, and harass the Defendants. Mr. Horowitz has repeatedly used profanity in dealing with opposing counsel and (remarkably!) the Court...In related instances, Mr. Horowitz has repeatedly used variations on a word with no other meaning than a profane one."

In short, the ADL's attorneys concluded, the case between the Aronsons and the Quigleys has been marked by a "lack of common courtesy and collegiality."

Two weeks later, Horowitz responded. The ADL and its director, Saul Rosenthal, "have sought delay at every turn," the Quigleys' lawyer wrote. Besides, he added, he wasn't the only one misbehaving: "Should this court wish to inquire into the conduct of all counsel during the settlement discussions, any 'lack of courtesy' by us pales next to the mendacity, hypocrisy and willfulness of the defense counsel in these cases."

The judge appears to be tiring of the whole affair. Nottingham prefaced one recent order by noting, "Another avalanche of paper has hit my desk in this case."

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Eric Dexheimer
Contact: Eric Dexheimer