A Lawrence man Tuesday won a Douglas County Small Claims Court action that he hopes will lead other people to challenge a pawnshop practice of refusing to return stolen merchandise to its rightful owner unless that person pays the pawn fee.
Lawrence Bodle, 1218 Tenn., was awarded a videocassette recorder that he says a thief stole from him in July and sold at Jayhawk Pawn and Jewelry, 1804 W. Sixth.
Bodle claimed that because the VCR legally belonged to him, the pawnshop should be forced to return it to him free of charge.
But Jeff Lummis, manager of the pawnshop, argued that a 1985 federal appeals court decision justified the practice. The decision states that a pawnbroker has rights to property he or she has taken as security for a loan. Before the property may be taken from the pawnbroker, the court decision states, a "due process" hearing must be held to determine who is the correct owner of the property.
PETER CURRAN, a Lawrence attorney who Tuesday was acting as a temporary small-claims judge, ruled that Tuesday's court action constituted a "due process" hearing and that Bodle presented sufficient evidence of ownership. Curran ordered Lummis to return the VCR.
In an interview after the hearing, Bodle said he was not surprised by Curran's ruling.
"I felt we would get it back and we did," he said. "I expected it to be a due process hearing."
Bodle said he hoped that if other people found themselves in his position, they also would take the pawnshop to court.
"What I'm hoping to happen is for the public to become aware that they don't have to pay the $55 (pawn fee)," he said.
Lummis and Gregg Ellis, a co-manager, said the ruling leaves pawnshops open to what they and Craig Shanks, a Lawrence police detective who testified Tuesday on their behalf, described as a common scam. In the scam, one person pawns an item belonging to a co-conspirator. The owner splits the loan money with the person who sold it, then the owner reports the item stolen.
LUMMIS AND Ellis argued there was evidence that Bodle made a similar arrangement with the "thief" who sold his VCR. Bodle said the thief, who was a houseguest, stole the VCR while he and his wife were on vacation.
The pawnshop co-managers said that when Bodle first came to the store to retrieve his VCR, he told them he did not want to file charges against the thief. They also said Bodle presented "bogus" ownership records in court.
Bodle said he was not involved in a scam and that he was willing to prosecute. He said the thief was a former convict who he and his wife took in so that the man could enter the Douglas County Community Corrections program. Bodle said the man duped him into believing he was making progress, then ran off with his VCR and a key to his home.
In an interview this morning, Lummis and Ellis said Tuesday's hearing was not a proper "due process" hearing. They said the hearing would happen in criminal court, where a judge or jury could determine whether a theft actually occurred.
Lummis and Ellis said their supervisors are deciding whether to appeal the decision. Representatives from the Topeka firm that owns the pawnshop have 10 days to appeal the ruling to district court.