A golden bridge gateway to an ethereal city perched by a bay. From the vista point on the north side, looking back, few tourists are here at 6:30 am. I stop to use the facilities, so conveniently located half way between my home and my destination, (Napa's Superior Court Building). Whenever I stop here I always take a moment to breathe in the air from the wide Pacific Ocean on my right and to spot container ships entering under the span, guided by pilots familiar with the islands, currents and channels so that Zim, Maersk and Evergreen shipments do not get hung up on Alcatraz.
Taking to the road again, dipping past the moored real estate that passes for houseboats in Sausalito, my mind is on the "Victim's Statement" that I will make at a sentencing hearing for a gallery owner who, among other things, sold paintings and never paid the artists. The District Attorney said it would help his arguments if some victims were willing to participate. Sadly, he also advised me that "Off with his head!" was not a sentencing option, no matter how good my impression of The Queen of Hearts.
As I turn onto the main Napa thoroughfare I see six hot air balloons suspended in the pale gold morning air. The sun bores through the moisture lifting from the milk chocolate earth, between the lushly leafed rows of grapevines, as the descendants of the Montgolfier brothers' invention slowly gain height and progress down the valley in a stately dance. They are pretending nonchalance but they must complete their tours before the winds that will rise with the temperatures make them unmanageable and dangerous. I have never wanted to trust my fate to a gaseous bubble with neither steering nor brakes, and yet, I am charmed; I just might have to give this a try one day. What a way to experience the morning?
The Courthouse was not hard to find and has a free all day parking garage behind it and the jail. I am pleasantly surprised at how new and well kept the building, and those around it, are. Napa was never the place to go in the Valley; too worn out and grubby. Everyone means Yountville, Calistoga and St Helena when they talk of wine tasting and boutiquing; in between spa treatments and some very good restaurants. It seems that the town of Napa is also worth reconsidering.
I feel comfortably situated as I know where I am and where I am going. I spend some time in the car rewriting my statement that I had banged together, tired and hurried the preceding evening. These cases take years to get from complaint to sentencing and I had pulled out my file and refreshed my memory of the details, dating back to 2003.
Ed King owned Generations Gallery, in Yountville. The same man who represents my husband's work on the East Coast, got sucked into sending King several large and beautiful paintings by Jean Duquoc. Jean is based in Brittany and has a strong eye for colorful seascapes and landscapes. In the beginning they were all excited about the possibilities of a solo show and they heard back nothing but positive reviews and future sales.
It is strange how checks get lost in the mail; bookkeepers won't be available for a month to rewrite them; family illness is exploited to excuse all kinds of shady dealings and when asked to return "unsold" work suddenly the story evolves to include clients who have paintings out on approval with a hope of potential sales. How could an artist in France and an agent in New Jersey really follow up as required?
Yountville is less than two hours' drive for us. We went to see if we could shed light on a confusing and, by then, suspicious situation. Not one Duquoc painting on the walls of Generations Gallery and a sales staff who knew of no more available canvases. I began hounding King by phone and email and then wrote an ultimatum letter, detailing all the facts. I didn't really think it would do much good but it was designed to serve as my factual presentation to Napa's District Attorney.
That was the beginning of our battle for justice and today was the conclusion. With ample opportunities to make restitution rather than serve time, King continued to believe he could sweet talk his way out of trouble for ever.
King was sentenced to five years in Prison, much to his surprise. He will qualify for probation in half that time but that will be contingent on "making whole" (the Judge's chosen words), all the artists he defrauded.
Ed King owes half a million dollars, including unpaid sales taxes, client credit card double charges and paintings. He has been in custody for over a month already for failure to appear at his previous hearing. His ex-golf pro tan has faded leaving pasty sun wrinkled tortoise skin; his hair has grown in grey now that his colorist is unavailable to him; although the cut is fashionably short. Napa is a kind jurisdiction; their jail jump suits are a reasonable navy blue; unlike the bright traffic-cone orange of so many penitentiaries.
Who's fooling who, now?