From catwalk to courtroom
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” An Aspen woman’s aspirations to be a model are off to a dubious start.
Rachel Lacey was hit with a $4,300 judgment Wednesday in Pitkin County small claims court, where she was sued by a photographer who accused her of refusing to pay a $5,000 bill for a photo shoot done earlier this year.
Lacey, 21, insisted that she thought the shoot, done by Aspen photographer Karl Wolfgang, would be no more than $500.
In Wednesday’s court trial, Lacey testified that she arranged the photo shoot with the help of Rita Bellino, an Aspen hairdresser and longtime family friend, who introduced Lacey to Wolfgang.
Lacey works in sales at the Gorsuch Limited at the base of Aspen Mountain and said she wanted to submit some photos to secure a spot as a model in the company catalogue.
So, at Bellino’s suggestion, Lacey met with Wolfgang in December.
And that’s where things got fuzzy.
Lacey said she agreed to have Wolfgang do some simple headshots and that she couldn’t pay more than $500.
But when shooting day came in February, Wolfgang did far more than she expected, something Lacey simply chalked up to a “favor” because the shoot was set up by her family friend.
“I never expected it to be a full-day shoot,” Lacey said. “I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into.”
Then came the bill she couldn’t pay.
“I felt like I was being taken advantage of,” Lacey said, calling the situation extortion.
Wolfgang, whose work has appeared in local and national magazines, testified that he doesn’t even do headshots, nor was the word ever used in his conversations with Lacey.
The photographer said he explicitly told Lacey it would cost from $4,000 to $5,000 for an all-day fashion shoot with a hairdresser, stylist, film, processing and lunch for the whole crew.
But the pair signed no contract.
“It was a handshake agreement,” Wolfgang said, adding that Lacey said her parents would help out with the fees.
Separately, Lacey contracted with Bellino for $1,000 to do her hair for the one-day shoot.
In nearly 12 hours of work on a Sunday in February, the crew set up eight different locations and dressed Lacey in different outfits and hairstyles, Wolfgang said.
“She’s not ignorant,” Wolfgang said. “She knew everything that was going on.”
But after the shoot Lacey ignored his requests for payment, Wolfgang said, and he would not give her the photos until she paid up.
“We worked very hard for her,” said Constance Golder, the stylist Wolfgang hired for the day.
Golder met with Lacey before the shoot to plan the many outfits.
Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely said there was some fault on both sides.
The older, experienced photographer should have gotten the agreement in writing, Ely said.
“I think it was probably vague,” Ely said.
But the judge also said that, despite her youth, the would-be model knew that the crew was not planning just headshots and that there was repeated “ratification” of the higher price tag.
Ely awarded Wolfgang his costs ” some $4,300 plus filing fees and interest ” and the hairdresser said she would settle her $1,000 debt with Lacey on her own.
The judge offered Lacey a chance to set up a payment plan with Wolfgang, but
Lacey said she was in financial trouble and her family was not helping her. Lacey said she could not settle on a monthly payment and said she needed to talk with a lawyer.
Ely suggested Wolfgang file to have Lacey’s wages garnished.
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