Judge orders troubled tree cutter to jail while crying customers demand more

Irene Ford reacts to finally seeing Don's Tree Experts owner in court. She blames Angela Hodges for leaving her yard a mess, even after reminding her she wanted it fixed up for her son who was dying of cancer.

As the saying goes, the biggest key to success is just showing up.

That advice can also apply when a judge orders you to appear in court. Just ask Angela Hodges, the owner of Don's Tree Experts in Stone Mountain.

Showing up on time appears to be a constant problem for Hodges. She faces multiple pending lawsuits from customers who complained they paid Hodges upfront to remove trees, only to be left with a litany of excuses for why Hodges couldn't come back to finish the work.

Don's Tree Experts owner Angela Hodges brought medical records to prove she was too sick to come to court three times last year. The judge said she lied.

Hodges lost one of those lawsuits last year. Pattie Seymour won a $4000 judgment claiming Hodges left her yard a disaster. But Seymour couldn't collect the judgment because she didn't know the company's bank account numbers and other assets.

Hodges was ordered back to court last summer to provide that information. But she skipped the hearings, later explaining she was really, really sick.

A skeptical DeKalb County magistrate judge Matthew McCoyd ordered her to provide medical records.

"She said she had a heart problem," complained Deborah Houston, one of her upset customers who gathered outside the courtroom. "She has no heart."

Another could barely talk. Irene Ford broke down in tears.

"My yard looks horrible," she cried. "Horrible!"

The homeowner paid $1500 for three loads of dirt and the removal of several trees. She says Don's Tree Experts delivered dirt filled with rocks and tree limbs and left the trees where they fell.

According to her lawsuit, Ford paid Hodges $1500 up front to take down some trees and bring in dirt to smooth out her backyard. Ford wanted to make it look nice for her son who was coming home to battle cancer.

Instead, she said Hodges dumped loads of poor quality dirt -- mixed with wires, rocks and tree limbs -- and then took months to even get the downed trees out of the backyard.

"This female said I'm going to make you a beautiful yard," remembered Ford. "How could somebody be this horrible? My son died and I got this big old mess."

Magistrate judge Matthew McCoyd found Angela Hodges guilty of contempt of court.

Back inside the courtroom, judge McCoyd wasn't satisfied with the medical records Hodges brought.

"She testified under oath that she didn't appear in court on the 27th because she couldn't get out of bed because of back pain," observed McCoyd. "Doesn't say anything about lower back pain. Not a thing."

"She said she had a heart problem. She has no heart."

— Deborah Houston, Don's Tree Experts customer

Here's the irony of not showing up. The bank records Hodges finally brought to court likely won't help Pattie Seymour collect. They show a negative balance. Turns out, if she had just appeared in court last year with those records, Hodges would have likely avoided trouble.

But here's what happens when you don't show up. You eventually go to jail.

"I'm holding her in contempt and I'm sentencing her to five days in jail," ruled McCoyd. Hodges left the courtroom in custody.

Some of Hodges' angry customers showed up for every court hearing, even when she did not.

Five days. Still not enough for those upset customers who showed up in court every time.

"She's just playing games," complained Ford. "She needs to do some serious time."

Hodges does face theft charges involving four other customers who police say paid up front for work that was never even started.

She's denied the charges.

Hodges is under court order to stay away from the tree-cutting business until her criminal case is over.