Painting contractor says he'll refund deposit money to court, not to customer

James Michael Wilcox pays court $712.92 on Thursday

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – When a painting contractor walked out on Local 10 News viewer Kathlene Okehi Hepburn and refused to return her deposit, she took them to small claims court. The judge ruled in her favor but James Michael Wilcox of Mike's Paint Crew still did not pay.

"It wasn't like he was going to do anything intricate," Hepburn said. She said she had already bought the paint he was to use for the job.

"You see paint cans in every room," she said while walking through the hallway in her northwest Miami-Dade County home. She even painted a color swatch on each wall so there would be no confusion.

"There's one on every door, in every room," Hepburn said.

Before Wilcox arrived, she hired someone to move all of the furniture to the center of each room.

"I'm living like this because the paint was never done," she said. "I am so glad I did not break down my bedroom. (I) would not have anywhere to sleep."

The only thing Wilcox had to do was paint.

"All he had to do was his labor," she said.

Wilcox was going to charge her $1,100 to paint the interior of her home. Hepburn agreed and gave him a $500 deposit to start.

"I have to pay everything, my taxes and everything, and then do without to have extra money to put aside month by month to save," Hepburn said. "I am trying to make my life more comfortable in my last years. I wanted an attractive environment, you know? A place where I can invite people over and he knew all that."

Wilcox and his crew came to her home in October, but Hepburn said he walked off the job before he even started painting.

"It was never clear to me why he left," she said. "He looked like a nice guy. He did a nice job for somebody else, and I thought he was trustworthy in my interaction with him. I thought he was a nice guy, but you can't take that on face value anymore. You have to protect yourself and I have learned a hard, hard, lesson."

In January, Hepburn took her case to small claims court. The presiding judge said Wilcox must return her deposit, pay for her court costs, and pay interest. When Wilcox would not pay, Hepburn called Local 10 investigative reporter, Christina Vazquez.

READ: Small claims clinic brochure

"I only live on my social security, I have to do with out and save for every extra thing. There's nobody here but me," she said.

Vazquez tried to contact Wilcox by phone several times but never received a response. When she first approached Wilcox at his home, he claimed to be someone else and retreated into the home. During an interview with Hepburn at her home later that morning, Wilcox showed up to comment.

"This your interview right here," he said. "The final judgment was only granted due to nonappearance on my part. It's her money, you are right, but I am not going to give her the money without a receipt."

According to Wilcox, he abandoned the project after Hepburn asked him to paint the doors and a utility closet. Hepburn's receipt indicates the job was for home interiors which she believed included the doors. There was no written contract on file.

Wilcox also stated that he tried to refund her in the past but she would not sign a receipt showing he returned her money. He said he asked for her signature as a measure of protection.

"Why wouldn't you let me count the money?" Hepburn asked.

"I wasn't going to put money in your hand until you signed a receipt," Wilcox said.

"So, if you were giving me fake one hundred dollar bills, I sign a receipt, you walk off, I am still out of my money," she said. "When were you going to pay me my money?"

"I came here three times, I have it on recording," he said. According to Wilcox, these recordings were on his cell phone but he refused to play them.

"I don't care if you came here 50 times. I still don't have my money," Hepburn said.

Before leaving Hepburn's property, Wilcox said he was going to do the right thing.

"I acknowledge that she is entitled to her monies but the court ordered me to do it the court process way and that is the way it is going to be done -- the court process, not her way, not your way, not Channel 10's way, the court way," Wilcox said. "You are going to get your money. I am going to give it to the courts."

Click here for small claims court information for self-represented.

"It appears from the interview that Mr. Wilcox provided to Channel 10 that he is confused about the process." said former state and federal prosecutor David Weinstein,  "He owes the money to Ms. Hepburn, not the Court. If an attorney was involved, the attorney would collect the money from Mr. Wilcox, give him a receipt, put the funds in their trust account, write a check to Ms. Hepburn and then file a satisfaction of judgment in the Court file. Removing the attorneys from the equation means that Mr. Wilcox needs to pay Ms. Hepburn.  She needs to give him a receipt and then she needs to file the satisfaction of judgment in the Court file."

"You are going to honor this final judgment?" Vazquez asked.

"Always. It would be illiterate for me not to pay the court, come on now. She will receive her monies in full," Wilcox said. "I always honor a court order. The thing is this – I'm going to petition the court for another court date."

On Thursday, Wilcox paid the court and satisfied the final judgement for a total of $712.92.

The Miami-Dade County clerk of courts website provides the public with clarification on the definition of a final judgement and also provides information about free "how-to" sessions about small claims court. 

Click here for free legal information/legal services in Florida.

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