DECATUR, Ga. - If someone is ordered to appear in court and they don't, they better have a good reason, right?
During a six-month time period, the owner of a DeKalb tree cutting company skipped three civil court hearings claiming illness, even though each time a judge was threatening to hold her in criminal contempt.
Angela Hodges of Don's Tree Experts is no stranger to the DeKalb County judicial system. There are multiple civil judgments against her from upset clients who sued because they say she never finished the job. Last year, Hodges was arrested on theft charges involving four other customers who say she took their money and never did any work at all. The criminal case has yet to go to trial. She denies the allegations.
Last year DeKalb County police charged Hodges with multiple theft counts. She's accused of taking money up front but never returning to do the work.
Would the Stone Mountain woman ever come back to face the judge handling the civil case?
This week she did, armed with lots of excuses. Asthma. Heart palpitations. Chronic back issues.
"There are times when I'm either in a wheelchair or I have a cane," as she explained the reason for her absence to a dubious DeKalb County magistrate judge Matthew McCoyd.
Patty Seymour's husband passed away during the couple's legal fight with Hodges. She's determined to collect on the $4089 judgment.
In each of the three hearings that Hodges missed, Patty Seymour was there, a widow waiting to face someone she says has brought her so much pain and sadness.
"I'm here today because of my husband, because he told her do not, do not take my money," Seymour explained.
In 2017, Patty and Floyd Seymour paid Angela Hodges' company, Don's Tree Experts, $7200 to remove trees and do landscape work at their Decatur home. A judge later found Hodges' failed to finish the job and ordered her to give the Seymours a good chunk of their money back: $4089. By that time, though, Floyd Seymour had passed away.
Winning a lawsuit and getting a judgment may sound good, but it means nothing if you can't collect. And that's why getting Angela Hodges in court was so important.
Hodges repeatedly refused to answer direct questions about her whereabouts on previous hearing dates.
Judge McCoyd was skeptical of the slim list of assets Hodges had submitted to the court, bank accounts or property that Patty Seymour could theoretically seize to satisfy the judgment.
In fact, he was skeptical of much of what Hodges had to say. Here's one exchange as the judge tried to pin down Hodges for why she missed the first hearing.
Judge: "Where were you on June 27 Ms. Hodges?"
Hodges: "As I said, I was not able to walk."
Judge: "That wasn't my question. Where were you?"
Hodges: "I was in bed trying to recover."
Judge: "So you were at home?"
Hodges: "I was in bed trying to recover."
Judge: "Here in DeKalb County."
Hodges: "I wasn't in DeKalb County. I was in bed trying to recover."
Judge: "Where physically were you?"
Hodges: "In bed, recovering."
But on this day, she would not be going back to jail. Judge McCoyd ordered her to return next month with bank and medical records proving that what she testified in court was true.
"Your credibility is what I'm struggling with," he told her.
Part-time DeKalb County magistrate judge Matthew McCoyd chose not jail Hodges. He wants her back with proof that what she testified was true.
If there was any punishment this day inflicted on Hodges, it came straight from the mouth of one of her victims. Patty Seymour confronted Angela Hodges outside the courtroom.
"I'm tired of hearing your lies. OK?" she told her while fighting back tears. "My husband died and you promised him that you were going to take care, finish your job. You didn't know what you were doing and you're a big scam artist."
But Hodges still wouldn't admit she did anything wrong.
"I'm tired of hearing your lies. OK? My husband died and you promised him that you were going to take care, finish your job. You didn't know what you were doing and you're a big scam artist."
"To say I'm running a scam is an utter and complete lie," she told Seymour. "And I will fight until death to clear and vindicate my name. I apologize for the loss of your husband. I have to go. My back is killing me."
Will it be a quick recovery? We will find out soon. Next court date: February 13.