The Pine Cone's fourth story of the week

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Artist and art dealer duke it out in court

By CHRIS COUNTS

Published: June 25, 2010

A LOS Altos artist wants payment for two paintings he claims were sold by Canapo Gallery, a Carmel business specializing in art from Italy, Spain, France and Latin America. In response, the gallery owner is refusing to pay until he receives two portraits he claims the artist owes him.

At stake in the case is a $2,500 commission and $322 for the cost of two frames. While the amount hardly seems like a sum worth waging a lengthy court battle over — as well as the negative publicity the case could generate for an established business — Canapo Gallery owner Carlos Porras said he’s determined vindicate himself in court.

“I have never tried to defraud anybody,” Porras said.

The artist, Gilbert Marosi, insisted he won’t give up his legal fight until he is paid. 

Meanwhile, two other artists have taken Porras to court over what they say was his failure to pay commissions on their work. Also, a former Carmel gallery owner who alleged fraud against Porras won a judgment against him 11 years ago — and is still waiting to get paid. 

Delays mark case

According to court documents, Porras sold two of Marosi’s paintings last year but never paid him $2,500 in commission. Porras does not deny that he owes the artist $2,500. Instead, he is refusing to pay the commission until the artist gives him two portraits that he created of Porras. The gallery owner said he and Marosi verbally agreed that the portraits would be part of the deal.

Marosi admitted creating the portraits, but he insisted he created them as gifts. And when Porras failed to pay him his commission on the two paintings that sold, he decided to keep the portraits.

Marosi sued Porras Feb. 5 and prepared to face him March 22 in a Santa Clara County courtroom. The gallery owner, though, didn’t show up, according to Marosi. Instead, he submitted a motion to change the venue to Monterey County. The judge denied the motion and set May 3 as a court date. On that day, Porras did show up in court but, according to Marosi, asked again for a change of venue and also requested that a different judge hear his case. The change of venue was again denied, but the change of judge was granted and a new court date was set for June 11.

On that date, Marosi and Porras met again in court, where the gallery owner was granted an opportunity to appeal his case for a change of venue, the artist reported. A new date has been set for Aug. 19.

Too far away to fight

Another artist, Angela Gomez-Rubio of Clear Lake, said she’s been waiting for more than a decade to receive payment for a painting she consigned to Porras in 1999.

According to court documents filed in August 2002, Gomez-Rubio “left a painting on consignment with Mr. Porras” in March 1998. “He sold it, and I was to receive $2,000 after the sale. He won’t pay me.”

For the next two years, Gomez-Rubio said she received “vague promises” that she would receive her commission. Eventually, she said, Porras paid her $400. Finally, she took him to court.

“On the date of the trial, Porras showed up, and I felt I might possibly get some justice at last,” she recalled. “There was a pro tem judge that day, and the bailiff announced that anyone who didn’t want their case heard by this judge should raise their hand. Porras’ hand shot up.”

Discouraged by the delay, Gomez-Rubio said she gave up her fight against Porras.

The distance between her home in Clear Lake and the Monterey County courthouse — a six-hour drive — and her commitment to a job made it impossible to continue the case against the gallery owner.

When asked why he wouldn’t pay Gomez-Rubio, Porras said the paint on her painting cracked. When asked if he refunded the client who purchased the painting as a result of the paint cracking, he declined comment.

The check’s in the mail

A third artist, Hugo Lecaros of Sunnyvale, said in court documents that Porras sold two of his paintings in November 2005 and never paid him the $3,270 commission he was owed.

According to Lecaros, Porras “on several occasions ... lied that he had mailed” the $3,270 commission check. In response, Lecaros visited Porras in February 2006 at his gallery. Porras wrote Lecaros a check for the amount he requested but “then stopped payment on the check.”

Three months later, Lecaros agreed to a $2,500 settlement from Porras, court documents say, which he did receive.

When asked about the Lecaros case, Porras said it has been settled and declined comment.

‘Nondischaregable in bankruptcy’

According to Don Becker of Las Vegas — who once owned a Carmel gallery, Exotic Siam — Porras convinced him in 1995 to invest $10,000 in a business deal. A short time later, Becker learned Porras had declared bankruptcy, so he took him to court. Fours years later, he finally received a judgment against Porras.

“The court finds that Carlos Porras created a debt of $10,000 on April 8, 1995, with the plaintiff, and that such debt was created by fraud and is, therefore nondischargable in bankruptcy...”

Becker received $4,400 through a Chapter 13 trustee, leaving a balance of $5,600. With interest, that figure had risen to $6,816 by the date of judgment, Jan. 26, 1999.

“I won in bankruptcy court [because] the judge said that the debt was created by fraud,” Becker explained. “Of course, he still didn’t pay.”

The Carmel Police Department has forwarded complaints about Porras to the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office, which so far has declined to files any charges against the Carmel art dealer.

“We don’t get into business disputes lightly,” said chief assistant district attorney Terry Spitz.