Nestled at the foot of Pikes Peak on the western flank of the Great Plains, Colorado Springs is one of the prettiest cities in the United States. The poem and song America The Beautiful immortalizes our vistas.
Formerly, any collection of dimwits in city, county, or state government could raise taxes at their whim. But one crusty curmudgeon (yes, there is more than one here) took exception and in 1992, after several tries, managed to amend Section X of the Colorado Constitution by means of a voter referendum. That amendment, known as the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR, requires any governing body in the state that wants to raise taxes to submit the question to the citizens within their jurisdiction for a vote up or down.
Voluntary tax increases are not nearly as popular with citizens as politicians would like. Since TABOR passed they have been trying every slimy dodge imaginable to wriggle around this constraint. The current depression has renewed their vainglorious efforts.
In 2008 a local county commissioner (an attorney of course) threatened to sell the county parks if citizens rejected his proposed tax and spend increase that was, in his mind, absolutely essential for "public safety." Predictably, citizens didn't take kindly to the threat and the tax increase failed by a wide margin and he is looking for another government job next year. Turned out the parks did not need to be sold and crime rates remain among the lowest in the nation.
Another popular dodge is for politicians to pass a tax and call it a fee. A few years back Colorado Springs decided to tax property owners for the rain that fell on them. Knowing such a tax was quite unlikely to receive voter approval, they called it a Stormwater Enterprise fee that applied to rain that fell on every impermeable surface on one's property. Well the same curmudgeon that got TABOR passed didn't take kindly to the bungling city government's "fee" for rainwater and petitioned against it, issue 300 in the November 2009 election.
The current depression has also curtailed tax revenues for the City of Colorado Springs as its citizens incomes dried up and the homeless tents along the creeks multiplied. The answer, of course, as any self-serving politician will tell you, is to once again raise property taxes despite the record number of home foreclosures. And if citizens refuse to bear any burden to support the profligate city government, where an average employee earns around $60,000 a year and the city clerk earns twice that, why it would be necessary to discharge police and firemen and shut down the parks. Sound familiar?
Again that cantankerous old curmudgeon refused to accept the politicians pleas for "More, more, more, no taxation is ever enough to pay for our mistakes and blunders." And so he petitioned against that tax increase as well, referendum 2C on the November 2009 ballot.
Now being a fair, impartial, and unbiased government, with a well-educated and informed law-enforcement agency, city attorney, and, of course, courts, the obvious step for the city government to take was to have this unspeakably evil curmudgeon and his crony arrested for exercising their Constitutional right to petition for redress at a local Costco. The Keystone Cops episode that followed is described in their own words below and deftly illustrates how dysfunctional our "legal" system has become.
The officer's citation first ordered us to court August 8, a week before the alleged crime! It listed Mr. Stinehagen as female. It stated our "crime" occurred in September, a month later than the day we were charged. The officer meant to charge trespassing, but the citation was for transporting explosives a felony. Mr. Stinehagen's charge was amended two days before trial.
No Costco employee ever asked us to leave, a legal requirement for trespass. Councilman Herpin later called that glaring omission a "technicality." We showed printed police policy bulletins promising no trespass arrests of peaceful petitioners. The officer stated we would not be cited.
Armed with handgun and Taser, she ordered three times we erase a photo taken. That forced destruction of evidence was so clearly a felony (§ 18-8-610 C.R.S.) she was advised of her right not to testify against herself.
We signed her citations about 5:30 PM and left. After 9 PM, she pounded on Mr. Bruce's door and demanded he return his citation for her to rewrite. He refused. She then tried to coerce his 76-year-old co-defendant in a 10 PM phone call. She then altered both tickets, after we had signed them and received copies!
Our motion that the case be heard by a neutral outside judge was denied. Our judge was a loyal city employee whom the council appointed and could fire any time, and whose salary faced a financial impact if our petition, issue #300, passed.
Two weeks later, that judge dismissed the tickets over our objections, letting the city re-file with three weeks delay. Police rewrote the tickets, quietly changing Mr. Bruce's charge and other items, while pretending to fix only the date.
City Attorney Patricia Kelly emailed the city council about the new filing and invited them to reply if they wanted the case dropped. Asking politicians whether to prosecute their political foe is grossly unethical. We notified the state bar. The judge covered up that email discussion and council's secret and illegal meeting.
Prosecutors proposed gag orders that we not mention "freedom of speech," police bulletins, proof of targeted prosecution, etc. The city had secretly changed its petition policy by demand of Costco's Denver lawyer. We were ordered not to show the jury his email naming Mr. Bruce as the target of the change. Their new policy, never passed by the council, erased "First Amendment" 14 times. It specifically protected burning our American flag, but ended previous tolerance of peaceful petitioners.
On a sidewalk outside the courthouse, a man handed out informational fliers noting the historic role of juries as buffers against tyranny. No jurors had been chosen for any case. The city-paid judge went ballistic and orally made up a law that no one could ever post signs or pass out leaflets within 100 yards of the courthouse. He made that area a "constitution-free zone." Talk about legislating from the bench! No offering papers to sign on public access property, no distributing papers to read within 100 yards of public property two insane and illegal city "rules."
The judge asked us in open court, "When WE finish the prosecution, will you be ready with your witnesses?" That gaffe exposed him as a co-prosecutor, rather than an objective arbiter of justice. When we asked for the tape, he said it was not recorded, claiming an electronic "glitch."
Jurors were denied the transcript of the star city witness's prior sworn testimony showing his many inconsistencies, and his typed statement he signed in August, showing (a third time) he never asked us to leave. We were threatened with contempt of court if we mentioned our evidence.
The city's bumbling incompetence was so gross they made the Keystone Kops look like the Bolshoi Ballet. The bias was overt. We would call this a kangaroo court proceeding, but kangaroos might sue us for libel.
I am pleased to note that the citizens of Colorado Springs turned down the property tax increase, 2C, proposed by the (what term describes them?) city council. And that issue 300 passed, ending the city's end run around TABOR with fees on rainwater and other malfeasance.
I'm also confident that most readers will not be shocked to learn that after the 2C tax measure was defeated that certain funds were suddenly discovered to cover the dire shortfalls so alarmingly described before the November election.
The sad thing, though, is that this case represents a cross-section of what millions of Americans endure every day as they pass through our "justice" system. Arrests are made on false allegations without question, children are forcibly taken on imagined charges based on anonymous phone calls, it is often impossible to get a jury trial, coercion and even torture of defendants is routine, courtrooms bear a distinct resemblance to Star Chambers, the outcome is often predetermined by the judge's cronies, transcripts are lost or altered due to recording "glitches," and may god have pity on anyone before the bar who can't afford an attorney at $200-$500 hour or more.
Of course, the obvious solution in the political mind is to raise taxes and fees and pour more money into child protective services, police, jails, judges, police, and social interventions. Encouraging marriage and families is contraindicated in their world and any curmudgeon who dares challenge their eminences must be done away with. And for any Doubting Thomas may I recommend Barbara Johnson's recent book Behind The Black Robes: Failed Justice.