Carbondale family embroiled in water lawsuit with Wexner ranch
A Carbondale ranch owner avoided a contempt of court charge Monday in an increasingly acrimonious water rights dispute with a ranch owned by the Les Wexner family.
Cassie Cerise owns land bordering with and downstream from the Barretta LLC, controlled by the Wexner family, about 2.5 miles north of Highway 82 on Crystal Springs Road.
The Wexners own around 6,000 acres on the base of Mount Sopris, according to reports from the Aspen Times, as well as 30 acres on Red Mountain near Aspen.
Wexner stepped down from L Brands, the company he founded as The Limited, Inc., in February. In the past year, Wexner has been criticized for his financial backing of Jeffrey Epstein, and for the allegedly hostile work environment of subsidiary company Victoria’s Secret.
Judge Berkley Boyd noted individuals on both sides of the lawsuit have used the pejorative hand sign colloquially known as “the bird.” Cerise claims in testimony Monday that she and her family has been abused and harassed by Barretta employees and security guards hired to watch the road.
The contempt accusation alleges that Cerise broke a June 4, 2019 order from Boyd which set speed restrictions for Cerise driving on Barretta ranch property. The court stepped in after allegations that people associated with Barretta had been forced to jump off roadways to avoid being struck by cars, and a temporary protection order against Cerise’s husband that has since expired.
Boyd’s order set a 20 mph speed limit, and a 5 mph limit if near Barretta representatives.
Boyd named certain routes as the only places Cerise would be able to drive on Barretta property, but did not expressly include the road Cerise uses to access her cabin on the property.
Cerise testified Monday that after reading the order, she realized, “under this order I (couldn’t) go home that night.”
Attorneys for both parties requested an amendment but disagreed about what the order meant. To Cerise, it meant the speed restrictions didn’t apply to the road leading to her cabin, for which she has a deeded easement. Barretta LLC’s attorney Kevin Patrick argued that the order meant speed restrictions and rules of the road applied to all Barretta property.
After a 5 hour hearing Monday, Boyd decided the rule was unclear.
”I would have to conclude that the order is ambiguous as to these deeded easements,” Boyd said. “That would make it inappropriate to impose a criminal-like consequence for potentially violating this order.”
But disregarding the rules of the road is just one of many instances of alleged abuse by Cerise, who in turn has leveled plenty of complaints against people associated with Barretta.
“We have been surveilled basically constantly since Barretta took over the property,” Cerise testified Monday.
The Barretta property houses and trains horses used on the Wexner’s other ranch near Carbondale during summer visits, according to trainer Susan Eoff. She testified Monday that there have been numerous incidents of unsafe driving on the road the Cerises use over the Barretta ranch.
After Boyd’s order, Cerise said she was frequently followed or watched by security guards while driving over the road easement.
Cerise is not the only person related to the case to face criminal accusations in fallout from the lawsuit.
Scott Haycock, a former irrigator for Barretta, is now accused of felony perjury for an affidavit seeking a permanent protection order against Cerise’s husband, Tim Fenton, in May 2019.
Haycock’s affidavit alleges Fenton came “within inches of my face, screaming and threatening me with harm” if he touched a shared splitter box on the Barretta Property.
In courtroom testimony May 23, Haycock said Fenton never threatened to touch him, and revealed that he did not draft the affidavit — Barretta attorney Patrick did, according to the perjury summons.
Haycock appeared to recant in a May 31 hearing when he said Fenton was on the other side of a fence and not inches away.
A tape of the incident heard Fenton repeating, “don’t steal my f-ing water,” and Haycock responding, “I didn’t steal your f-ing water,” Cerise’s attorney Tom Silverman said Monday.
Boyd said his order was intended to keep everyone involved safe, and to encourage the neighbors to coexist.
That clearly isn’t happening, Boyd said, and he had criticism for both parties.
Cerise’s narrow definition of the boundaries of the order, and Barretta’s hiring of security to watch a road that only Cerise and her family uses, “does not show neighbors trying to get along,” Boyd said.
“Nobody’s going to be happy if you don’t find a way to get along,” he added.
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