Civil dispute drags on, four years after judgment | AspenTimes.com

Civil dispute drags on, four years after judgment

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times

A long-standing dispute over money continued in Pitkin County Court on Wednesday, four years after a judge ordered the defendant in the case to pay up.

The civil case between Tony Bell, the plaintiff, and Jolynne Askey and Hayes Hollenbeck, the defendants, highlights the difficulties and complexities involved in collecting a debt, even when a judge already has sided in one party's favor.

Bell, an Aspen businessman and owner of the iPro Center computer store on East Hyman Avenue, is represented by attorney Jeff Wertz. Askey and Hollenbeck, an Aspen couple, were not represented by a lawyer.

The Wednesday hearing, before Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely, was held to address the defendants' objection to Bell's attempt to garnish Askey's bank account to obtain $15,187.68, which includes interest that has accumulated since the May 2010 judgment of $11,145.50 in Bell's favor.

Bell's original claim related to work he says he performed for Askey and Hollenbeck on their East Hopkins Avenue apartment in early 2009. Court documents indicate the job involved painting, patching and other repairs to the interior of the dwelling.

After Bell filed his lawsuit, the defendants answered it. A trial was scheduled, but the defendants did not show up, and the court entered the judgment into the record, according to Wertz.

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Four years later, the debt remains uncollected. Wertz said he inherited the case earlier this year and has had a hard time tracking down Askey and Hollenbeck. His private investigator finally found them in July and served them with a legal document, "judgment-debtor interrogatories," at the Pine Creek Cook House, a part-time restaurant in a rustic setting near Castle Creek Road and the Ashcroft area.

"It's been difficult for my client, and difficult for me since he hired me, to find these people," Wertz said. "They live here part of the year, and they've become quite adept at flying under the radar. They still haven't answered the interrogatories and claim they misplaced them."

Askey said in court Wednesday that the money Wertz and Bell are attempting to garnish from her account actually belongs to an out-of-state corporation, 2153 Ocean LLC. The company owns multimillion-dollar property in Newport Beach, California, slated for a potential residential development.

Askey said the money in her account belonged to an investor who is the majority owner of 2153 Ocean LLC. Askey said she and Hollenbeck are managing the residential project.

Wertz said the investor did not file a document with the court in a timely fashion for the right to intervene. He added that under state law, defendants cannot claim exemption from garnishment by saying that the money in their bank account does not belong to them.

"The excuse that someone else's money happened to be in your bank account is too convenient and if it were recognized as a valid basis for exemption or immunity from garnishment, one can imagine that any and all unscrupulous judgment debtors would employ that tactic," he argues in a response to Askey and Hollenbeck's objection.

Not only have they filed an objection to the garnishment request, but Askey and Hollenbeck filed a motion Wednesday to set aside the May 2010 judgment. "Mr. Bell misrepresented the facts and committed fraud regarding this case," the motion states.

Fernandez-Ely said she would take all of the issues under advisement and scheduled another hearing for Nov. 5.

Even after the judge moved on to another case, the animosity between both sides spilled over.

As Wertz prepared to exit the courtroom, Hollenbeck shouted, "Did you want to say something to me, Jeff?"

"I wanted to say you're ridiculous," Wertz said.

"You're the one with the lousy reputation," Hollenbeck fired back.

Wertz smiled, shook his head and left. He said later that the only reason he replied to Hollenbeck after the hearing was because his client had been unjustly accused of fraud.