ASPEN - To Samantha Cordts-Pearce, co-owner of CP Burger restaurant and other restaurants in Aspen, it was frustrating to sit in Pitkin County small-claims court Tuesday and be required to answer questions from fired employee Joseph Edward Kern.
Cordts-Pearce described it as "ludicrous" that the legal system was giving Kern the opportunity to try to recoup $5,230 he claims is owed to him by his former employer, DB Bistro LLC, parent company of the restaurants she owns with her husband, Craig. Kern, 35, was arrested Oct. 3 on suspicion of stealing $2,100 from the CP Burger safe; his criminal case is pending.
"We're sitting here because he robbed us," she told Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely. Craig Cordts-Pearce was not present.
But the judge reminded Samantha Cordts-Pearce that even those who are accused of crimes have legal rights.
"They are entitled to rights, as you are," Fernandez-Ely said.
Tuesday's proceeding was a continuation of a small-claims trial that began in January on whether the restaurant owners should pay Kern $5,230 he says he earned for two pay periods before he was terminated as the operations manager for the restaurants.
The Cordts-Pearces have filed a counterclaim, saying the alleged theft has resulted in numerous costs amounting to $5,614. Samantha Cordts-Pearce outlined a list of expenses, including locks and safe combinations that had to be changed at her restaurants, retraining of managers taking on his responsibilities, extra hours for employees who took on some of his duties and changes to the company's website to eliminate Kern's name and email address.
Fernandez-Ely made no decisions during Tuesday's proceeding. She said she would issue a written ruling Feb. 21, the day Kern is due back in court for a hearing on a request for a permanent civil-protection order being sought by the Cordts-Pearces. Currently, a temporary restraining order is in place, barring Kern from contacting them or any of their employees.
Aside from Samantha Cordts-Pearce's comment, Tuesday's proceeding was largely technical, focusing on the date that Kern was actually terminated. Fernandez-Ely said state law requires employers to pay a worker on the actual termination date, but Cordts-Pearce said the situation was ongoing, before and after the theft, making an official notice of termination difficult.
She pointed out that Kern was "missing in action" in the days leading up to the theft. She said she and her husband also suffered a loss of time and money while trying to track his whereabouts.
"When you don't show up for work, you quit," Cordts-Pearce said. "It wasn't a cut-and-dried termination."
A few times during the proceeding, Cordts-Pearce characterized Kern as someone guilty of stealing from her restaurant, and Kern interjected, pointing out that he is innocent until proven guilty. On the matter of the $2,100 theft from the CP Burger safe, Kern said he was simply attempting to recoup money that was owed to him.
In previous court proceedings, testimony revealed that Kern had attended a party at the Cordts-Pearces' home a few days before the alleged theft and went on a drinking bender in the days that followed.
Responding to a question from Kern that was relayed through the judge, Cordts-Pearce suggested that she and her husband would not have filed the counterclaim had Kern not filed the initial claim seeking back pay.
"Enough has happened, and I don't believe we want to be sitting in the courtroom by any means," she said.