Posted on Jan 20, 2008

Jury awards $1 in S-curves macing lawsuit

by Andrew Travers, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

 A jury of four men and three women found in favor of macing victim Jarrod Hollinger yesterday in District Civil Court. For his pain and suffering, they awarded him one dollar.     They also found in Hollinger’s favor regarding a counterclaim by defendant Scott Courts, who said the macing was justified because Hollinger threatened him.    

On July 5, 2006, Courts sprayed Hollinger in the face with pepper spray from the driver’s seat of his Chevy Tahoe, after a near-collision between them at the S-curves connecting Main Street to Highway 82 in Aspen.    

The incident lasted less than 20 seconds. But whether it was a malicious act of road rage, or self defense, or a response to a quip about Courts’s resemblance to actor Gary Busey, adjudicating the case required a day-and-a-half of argument and testimony in Judge James Boyd’s courtroom, and longer than that in the jury room.

Juror Lisa Johnson said the lack of physical evidence was what kept them deliberating for approximately 10 hours — more time than the attorneys took to present the case. “There was a lot of varying testimony and not a lot of evidence,” Johnson said after the trial. “So it was a matter of analyzing different words and what was true and what was not.”    

And why not award more than a buck to the victim?    

“We felt there was ample opportunity for both parties to avoid (the confrontation),” Johnson added. “Both parties learned lessons from this. It’s not always about money.”    

Both sides claimed the jury’s decision as a victory.    

“This was never about money,” said Hollinger’s attorney, John Case, after the trial. “They found (Hollinger) was assaulted. ... Courts wanted to be exonerated, and he was not.”     Defendant Courts said the verdict was toothless without a monetary penalty. “The bottom line is that we don’t have to pay,” he said outside the courtroom.

“In sports we call this an all-day sucker,” said Courts, who was a member of the 1978 NCAA basketball championship team from the University of Kentucky.     

His attorney, Jonathan Cross, of Denver, said they had made settlement offers of $1,000 and $5,000 to Hollinger, who refused both and said he would not accept less than $50,000.    

Cross added that he intends to file to recover costs for the defense. He estimated that the total will be in the neighborhood of $10,000.

The trial included testimony from both Hollinger and Courts, as well as former Aspen police officers Adam Crider and Dan Glidden, who arrested the men separately after the incident. Neither Courts nor Hollinger was convicted of a crime.

Courts testified that he maced Hollinger because Hollinger said he was going to beat him up, and was getting out of his car to attack him.     

However, former officer Crider testified that during an interview after the incident, he pressed Courts to describe Hollinger’s lower body. Courts, he said, could not describe Hollinger’s shorts, an indication that Hollinger did not get out of his car.

Courts called 911 immediately after macing Hollinger. Audio of his call — as well as Hollinger’s own call — were played for the jury, who heard Courts tell a dispatcher he had maced Hollinger because he had “accosted” him.    

Expert car accident analyst Dr. Jubal Hammernik testified that Hollinger could have made the left-hand turn onto Highway 82 that he was attempting to make when the fight ensued without a collision.    

Hammernik could not say conclusively whether Hollinger’s door was open or closed when he was sprayed. That point — whether he posed a threat to Courts — remained unclear, and the jury was handed a basic “he-said, he-said” case.    

Hollinger’s attorney, John Case, argued that Hammernik’s time-space analysis and testimony were meaningless because there was no physical evidence from the site of the incident, such as skidmarks.    

During his closing arguments, Case pointed out that Hollinger had been a driver for the St. Regis hotel for three years without incident, and that his client is “a polite person who gets along with people — not a hothead in any sense.”    

Hollinger pleaded guilty in December to reckless driving and operating an unsafe vehicle for an unrelated incident. That conviction was not revealed in court.

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