BY FRANK GIBBARD
In 1899 there was no #MeToo movement and no Internet. Nor were there statutes to protect victims of sexual harassment. When an employee was mistreated by her boss, sometimes vigilante justice may have seemed the only form of justice available. The vigilantes in this case were several men who, armed with pistols, demanded financial and other restitution from an attorney they claimed had sexually abused one of their relatives. Not surprisingly, the attorney's response was to litigate the matter, and the dispute wound up in the Colorado Supreme Court. As the Court discovered, there were several sides to this story. In the end, the Court upheld the trial court's verdict for the attorney on equitable grounds, but the reader may be left with questions about what really happened.
The Attorney's Story: Extortion at Gunpoint
Arthur D. Bullis practiced law in the Hanchett Building in Idaho Springs. The upper story of this beautiful late Victorian building, built in 1890 by a wealthy mining magnate, featured stained glass windows with elegant arches.
Bullis's office on the upper floor overlooked the train station. On the morning of January 26, 1899, he watched the 10:45 train arrive. Two men he knew got off the train: George McClelland and Edward M. Sabin. Sabin was a lawyer, originally from Wisconsin, who had been in practice in Denver for about five years. McClelland was a mining investor. His business with Bullis would soon become clear.
Bullis saw the men walk across the street toward his office. Sabin climbed the stairs and entered the office. Sabin and Bullis talked shop briefly about a pending case. Then Sabin left the room, and McClelland entered, accompanied by two other men: William and John Morris.2
The Morris boys were McClelland's brothers-in-law. The three men crowded into Bullis's office and closed the door. The Morris boys sat down. Bullis observed they were packing pistols.
McClelland handed Bullis a letter signed by E.M.3 E.M. was Bullis's former stenographer. As it happened, she was also McClelland's sister-in-law. The letter was in McClelland's handwriting. It instructed Bullis to convey a one-fourth interest in certain mining claims to the Atlantic and Brighton Lode, located in Gilpin County, to McClelland. Allegedly, E.M. had recently deeded those claims to Bullis as security for sums he was supposedly going to pay on her behalf. Now, McClelland was going to make him deed them back.
After Bullis perused the letter, McClelland said he wanted to talk about E.M.4 Bullis responded he had no objection provided they could do it "pleasantly and agreeably."5 McClelland's response was neither pleasant nor agreeable. He told Bullis he wanted to frisk him first.6
Bullis replied he did not mind, provided McClelland extended to him the same courtesy. McClelland searched Bullis and found no guns. Then Bullis stated it was his turn to examine McClelland. The Morris boys found this amusing. They laughed, and McClelland told Bullis to sit down.
Bullis tried to get up, but he was shoved back into his chair. McClelland came right to the point. "You have ruined [E.M.]," he said, "You need to pay her $5,000 and her mother $5,000."7 Bullis protested this was impossible. Those sums represented nearly twice his net worth.
McClelland ignored his objections. He demanded Bullis's letterhead stationery and a bottle of ink. Bullis produced them. McClelland told him, "You do just as I tell you or you will never leave this office alive."8The Morris boys chimed in, "You bet you won't."
Bullis wrote out a statement that McClelland dictated. In it, Bullis stated he'd engaged in a "forcible connection" with E.M. at the Windsor Hotel in Denver, against her will, and had threatened her that if she ever revealed the sexual assault, Bullis would send McClelland to the penitentiary.10
Sabin re-entered the room. His role in the affair now became clear. He was going to notarize certain documents Bullis would be forced to sign.
Sabin adhered to the notarial formalities. He asked Bullis if it was his signature on the statement about E.M. Bullis said it was, but it was not his free and voluntary act. He begged Sabin not to leave the room. Sabin said that he couldn't take sides. He notarized the document.
McClelland then made Bullis sign additional documents, including checks and promissory notes for large sums payable to E.M., her mother M.M., and others.11To secure payment on the promissory notes, Bullis was forced to sign a mortgage on his mining property and a chattel mortgage on his office furniture and law library. Finally, to add insult to injury, McClelland forced him to sign a statement addressed to his brother Masons at the Masonic Fraternity of Idaho Springs Lodge No. 26. In the statement, Bullis confessed that he had...