Pitkin County District Court Judge Chris Seldin on Friday appointed a Denver-based firm as the receiver to handle the sale of Lee Mulcahy’s Burlingame Ranch property, per the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority’s recommendation.
It’s the second time APCHA has proposed a receiver. In September, Mulcahy and defense attorney Jordan Porter successfully blocked the affordable housing entity’s first choice, Tim Whitsitt of Basalt.
While Seldin acknowledged then that Whitsitt likely was perfectly capable of overseeing the transaction, his friendship — a word Whitsitt specifically used to describe the relationship in a court hearing — with APCHA attorney Tom Smith could have created bad optics with the public.
Acknowledging that their yearslong relationship was the primary reason Seldin sent APCHA back to the proverbial drawing board, Smith said that the organization went out of its way to identify a firm with which there is no existing relationship. Cordes & Company fits that bill, he said.
“They’re a national firm that, among other things, they specialize in receivership,” Smith said, referring to the legal process in which a court appoints a third party to maintain custody of a property or business otherwise unably managed. “We felt their credentials were impeccable, so we recommended that to the judge.”
Mulcahy, for his part, filed a motion recommending local options, but APCHA objected. Ultimately, Seldin agreed with APCHA.
“The court has also reviewed Mulcahy’s proposed receivers, but he provides no description of their experience serving as a receiver, appreciation of the nature of the obligations a receiver assumes, or willingness to in fact assume those obligations,” he wrote. “The court generally agrees with Mulcahy that a local receiver would be preferable, but this factor is offset by the court’s continuing concern that Mulcahy is motivated more by a desire to delay these proceedings than anything else.”
A district court order is in effect requiring Mulcahy to sell his home after APCHA sued him for violating housing guidelines, a step he has so far been unwilling to take.
Among Mulcahy’s stated reasons for pushing against Cordes as receiver is that the firm’s Denver location will create added expense, as the receiver will have to commute to Aspen — but Smith maintains the opposite is true.
“In fact, their fee hourly rate was lower than what we proposed for Whitsitt. The fact that they’re a big firm might suggest they’re expensive, but they’re not,” Smith said.
For his part, Mulcahy filed a motion Friday afternoon in response to Seldin’s order.
“Seldin chooses a Denver firm over longtime local real estate brokers Shlomo, Diane Turner and Bronwyn Anglin? How unfair,” he wrote. “At the very least, we request 14 days to submit locals that have as qualified credentials as the Denver firm and are not objected to by APCHA.”
Whether or not the court grants that request remains to be seen. Seldin’s order praised Cordes’ track record.
“Cordes is an institutional receiver that civil litigants have successfully proposed to this court in the past in completely unrelated cases,” Seldin wrote in his order. “It has extensive experience in the field and understands its obligation is to the court, and not to either party.”
The very fact that Mulcahy has motioned to propose local options to act as a receiver might suggest that he’s relenting in his yearslong legal battle with APCHA to keep his house. When asked outright, however, Mulcahy didn’t mince words.
“No, of course not,” he said.
Sandy Mulcahy, Lee Mulcahy’s mother who lives in the house with him, instead suggested that her son’s motion to propose a local-based receiver was in the spirit of cooperating in the process without capitulating to selling their property.
“There’s documents in the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of Colorado, and they haven’t been very favorable in the past,” she said. “It’s kind of like, you respond to what APCHA is asking, but see where it goes. That’s all I know to say. It’s just so unknown.”
That said, Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock reached out to the Mulcahys, she continued, which gives her hope for a different resolution.
“Also, Jon Peacock has asked to meet, which he has never done before, with the idea that maybe there’s a third way,” she said.
Peacock did not immediately return a phone call requesting comment for this story.
The court’s order is the most recent development in the case that dates back to a lawsuit filed by APCHA against Mulcahy in December of 2015. APCHA maintained that Mulcahy, an artist, failed to meet the housing authority’s requirement that residents living in deed-restricted properties prove they work at least 1,500 hours per year in Pitkin County. Mulcahy contends that he did offer that proof, just not within a changed deadline, and the housing authority declined to review his records. That argument has so far failed at every judicial level.
“How many motions does he get to file on this thing?” Smith posed. “At some point, the motions are over, and the judge has to decide.”
At least as of Friday afternoon, it seems he has. Cordes will have to file an oath with the court verifying its obligations to the court before it can take any official actions as receiver, which Smith estimates will happen next week. APCHA has first right of refusal on the sale, and the maximum price is agreed to be $995,000, up from the original $640,000 agreed upon when Mulcahy purchased the lot for about $150,000 before building the now-contested house.
Of course, Smith and Seldin both noted, there would be no need for a receiver at all if Mulcahy would comply with the court’s order to list the property for sale.
“Wait a minute, Mulcahy, if you’re in a position to want other people to act on your behalf to propose other people to act on your behalf, why don’t you just take that needless step out of it and do it yourself?” Smith quipped.
But for Mulcahy, it’s become a matter of principle as much as housing.
“‘A man’s home is his castle’ is fundamental to protecting citizens from government tyranny,” he wrote in his most recent motion objecting Seldin’s ruling.
Suni Devitt, who would act as receiver from Cordes, did not return requests for comment Friday.