Trial for Boulder adoption agency operator scheduled for Dec. 1
Daily Times-Call, The (Longmont, CO)
Author: Victoria A.F. Camron , Longmont Times-Call
BOULDER — The former operator of a Boulder adoption agency can be held responsible for bad checks from that agency's account, a judge ruled Monday.
Defense attorney Lance Goff, representing Lisa Novak, asked Boulder District Judge Maria Berkenkotter to dismiss a felony charge of fraud by check.
Novak, 48, of Erie, is accused of stealing money from people who used the Claar Foundation adoption agency, which she and her husband operated out of Boulder. Novak also is charged with felony theft. Her trial is scheduled to begin Dec. 1.
Goff argued that a corporation is a separate legal entity from its officers, so the officer cannot be criminally liable for the corporation's checking account.
"This case would be dismissed in civil court," Goff said. "Corporations are always, essentially, regarded as persons."
But prosecutor Bruce Lange argued the state law is clear: Corporate officers can be held criminally liable for the corporation's wrongdoing.
"There are very few statutes that are as short and clear as that statute," Lange said.
The judge agreed.
Goff also asked Berkenkotter to allow defense witnesses to testify by telephone during Novak's trial. She cannot afford to pay expenses for out-of-state witnesses to appear in court, he said.
"While it isn't perfect, it's certainly better than ... them not being able to testify at all," Goff said.
But the rules of criminal court require "the testimony of witnesses shall be taken orally in open court," prosecutor Tim Johnson reminded the court.
Since no other court has allowed witnesses to testify via telephone in a criminal case, and the criminal trial rules do not specifically allow it, Berkenkotter denied Goff's request.
"This is a case where the jury needs to see all the witnesses," Berkenkotter said.
Novak was arrested in March after a couple told police they paid the Claar Foundation $25,000 in December to adopt a girl from Guatemala. When the couple learned the foundation was closing, they asked for their money back and for their files, but received neither, according to police.
The couple also learned that the foundation bounced a $12,500 check written to a Guatemalan adoption agency when that couple adopted a boy there. Because that check bounced, the couple was not allowed to adopt the girl they wanted, according to police.
Another woman told police that she paid the foundation a $13,000 referral fee but sought a refund because she never received the referral. In November, an arbitrator awarded the woman the money, but she never received it, police said.
Novak served on the Erie Board of Trustees from October 2003, when she was appointed, to January 2005. She resigned to focus on the adoption agency.
Victoria Camron can be reached at 303-684-5226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.