Pitkin County judge orders financial-judgment dodgers to pay up | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County judge orders financial-judgment dodgers to pay up

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times

Pitkin County Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely has ruled in favor of an Aspen businessman who received a financial judgment in 2010 but faced repeated difficulties in trying to collect the money.

The civil case between Tony Bell, the plaintiff, and Jolynne Askey and Hayes Hollenbeck, the defendants, was resolved Tuesday with an order approving a garnishment of $15,187.68 from a Wells Fargo bank account in Askey's name. The money likely will be turned over in a matter of days, according to Aspen attorney Jeff Wertz, who represented Bell, owner of the Ipro Center on East Hyman Avenue.

"It's a victory for the good guys," Wertz said. "You can run, but you can't hide."

The case highlighted the difficulties involved in collecting a debt, even when a judge already has sided in one party'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 for a pretrial conference, and the court entered an $11,145.50 judgment into the record, according to Wertz.

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Four years later, the debt and interest remained uncollected. Wertz inherited the case earlier this year and said he had a difficult time tracking down Askey and Hollenbeck. They were found in July at the Pine Creek Cook House, a part-time restaurant in a rustic setting off Castle Creek Road, and were served with a legal document, "judgment-debtor interrogatories."

During a court hearing Oct. 15, Askey said the money Wertz and Bell were attempting to garnish from her account actually belonged 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 were managing the residential project.

But 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.

Soon after the hearing, Askey and Hollenback filed a motion with the court, seeking relief from the judgment by claiming that Bell's bill for services amounted to fraud.

Hollenbeck acknowledged under oath to the court that he had notice of the judgment for several years, the judge's ruling said. Askey made a $500 payment to Bell after the 2010 judgment but then recently claimed before the court that she did not know about the judgment, Fernandez-Ely wrote.

"The Wells Fargo account garnished was not established in the name of the LLC and was treated as property separate from the LLC to allegedly help one of its individual members," Fernandez-Ely's ruling said. "In light of the circumstances, the money has been comingled as a matter of law by being held in Ms. Askey's individual name and is, therefore, garnishable by her creditors."

With regard to Askey's contention that she did not know about the judgment, Fernandez-Ely added, "Mr. Hollenbeck and Ms. Askey are domestic partners and have been at all times relevant hereto. It is not credible that Ms. Askey did not know about the judgment for several years. It is not excusable neglect or justifiable to ignore court proceedings and then seek relief four years later."

andre@aspentimes.com