I would like to devote this week’s column to a bit of follow-up news.
Regular readers of this column will remember the story Martin J. Erzinger, the Denver-area wealth fund manager who struck – and nearly killed – a cyclist alongside the road in Edwards, Colorado, near Vail in July of last year. Erzinger continued to drive, leaving Dr. Steven Milo seriously injured at the side of the road.
Erzinger was later arrested in the parking lot of a vacant Pizza Hut in Avon, while he was peeling damaged parts off of his car, placing them in his trunk and making an emergency call to Mercedes to arrange to get his car repaired.
While the accident itself was despicable, it was really the way the case was handled by District Attorney Mark Hurlbert that had the cycling community – quite justifiably – up in arms.
Erzinger claimed that he had never noticed hitting anyone with his car, attributing his lapse to the consequences of a previously undiagnosed problem with sleep apnea. His car, he assumed, had been damaged when he drifted off the road and was startled back to consciousness when he struck a culvert.
Employed by Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, Erzinger had a solid career as the manager of a successful $1 billion investment fund, one that required a minimum $5 million buy-in. He was the broker to the wealthiest of the wealthy. Remarkably, it appeared that it was the defendant’s choice of career that drove the D.A.’s decision on how to handle the case.
Hurlbert decided to allow Erzinger to plead guilty to two misdemeanor violations and drop a felony charge because as the apparently sensitive district attorney noted “felony convictions have some pretty serious job implications for someone in Mr. Erzinger’s profession.”
Not unexpectedly, once news of the deal hit the papers, cyclists – and, quite frankly, anyone with a commitment to equal treatment under the law – erupted in protest. Milo’s family hired noted criminal defense attorney Hal Haddon to represent the victim in this case and argue that the plea arrangement was counter to the principles of justice.
In December of last year, after a lengthy hearing, Eagle County District Judge Fred Gannett approved the plea deal.
Facing sentencing on the two misdemeanor counts, Erzinger pointed out that the controversy had caused him and his family a great deal of pain already.
The wake-up call?
In an emotional presentencing statement, Erzinger told the court that the stress had been devastating and that he woke up “every day thinking I am going to lose my job.”
Well, folks, it looks like that has happened.
Al Lewis, the Dow Jones reporter I met at Erzinger’s sentencing hearing in December of last year, reported yesterday that a company spokesman at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney will only say that as of May 31, Erzinger is no longer employed by the firm. He had originally been sentenced to 90 days in jail, which was suspended on the condition that he perform at least 45 days of uninterrupted community service. Erzinger met that condition by traveling to Haiti and working as a volunteer there. He returned to work following his time in Haiti, but the company now says that he left the firm at the end of May and has declined to comment any further.
Erzinger’s departure won’t insulate him from a likely civil suit, one that Milo and his attorneys have said is quite likely in this case. We suspect that even an unemployed Erzinger will have rather deep pockets to be tapped.
Coincidentally, the news of the “pretty serious job implications” for Erzinger comes the same week that the USA Pro Cycling Challenge for Millennium Promise, the newest effort to produce a world-class stage race in Colorado, announced its route for the event. It includes a 10.1-mile individual time trial up the west side of Vail Pass.
A lot of cycling fans – and I was not one of them – thought that the entire community ought to be the target of a boycott, largely due to the actions of D.A. Hurlbert. I still oppose the idea of a boycott and will probably be in Vail to watch the East Vail time trial on August 25.
My hope is that it was the targeted efforts by cyclists that eventually convinced Morgan Stanley Smith Barney to cut Erzinger loose. I suspect that it didn’t hurt that the victim’s own father-in-law is Tom Marsico, an even bigger player in the world of capital management than is (was?) Erzinger. Marsico was outraged at the treatment afforded Erzinger and it may have been his financial influence that convinced Morgan Stanley Smith Barney it wasn’t all that profitable to keep Erzinger in his job.
I am, as I’ve mentioned before, a big fan of targeted efforts, rather than the broad-brush approach that can affect an entire community; the good, the bad and the ugly.
And speaking of the bad, Hurlbert is still D.A. As we’ve mentioned before, he’s term-limited, so won’t be the chief prosecutor for that district after next year. He did take a stab at politics and ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Colorado State Senate.
I have no idea if his plans include another run. If they do, I’ll let you know, since that’s one boycott I would support with a degree of enthusiasm.