By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"I'm not the type of person to leave bills unpaid. I just don't believe in that," Armstrong told the Dallas Observer about the lawsuit filed by Steve Cox, owner of a small graphic design business in Dallas. And England, who helped front the magazine with money from a 1994 settlement in a lawsuit against the Dallas Police Department, said, "We were duped by an unscrupulous person who promised to invest in the magazine. We truly believed in our hearts that people who worked with us would understand that and overlook some of these debts."
Far from it. Dallas County, in particular, is not very interested in forgiving the debts of England, 32, and Armstrong, 35. According to county criminal court records, the former business partners have failed to appear in court on theft-by-check charges. England also failed to make a September 13, 1995, court date on a driving-while-intoxicated charge. Court documents show that England forfeited her $500 bond in the case at that time. On January 18, 1996, a new bond was set at $1,000, and a warrant was issued for England's arrest one month later.
But Dallas authorities won't find her in town. After Vary folded last fall (about the same time her court date came around), England moved to North Miami Beach, Florida, where she has been working as a chef.
"Oh my God," England said, when the Observer contacted her in Florida to ask why she skipped bail. "I'm kind of working on that right now. I took a job here so I could make some money to pay my debts. You have to have a job, you know, to pay your debts."
She had to move on, England says, because no restaurants in Dallas would hire her. "Nobody would really take me seriously in a restaurant because of what happened with the magazine," she says.
Ironically--considering her arrest record today--England at one time wanted to become a Dallas police officer. She applied for a job with the force in 1989, but was denied a position after admitting to being a lesbian. Departmental policy at the time banned the hiring of known homosexuals. England sued the City of Dallas, and after a protracted legal fight, received $73,000 in a settlement in 1994.
Court records show that two Dallas police officers pulled England over at 5500 Gaston Ave. for speeding on the night of August 22, 1995. After noting signs of possible intoxication, officer Steven R. Johnson asked England to submit to a breath or blood test. "She stated, 'No. Not until I pee,'" Johnson wrote in his arrest report.
England, records show, also refused to present identification when Johnson requested it. She gave him a false birth date, which authorities discovered through computer records when England was booked that night into the Lew Sterrett Justice Center on suspicion of DWI.
England's attorney, Trey Taylor, ultimately worked out a plea agreement on the misdemeanor DWI charge--for 90 days' probation. But England--moving to Florida--failed to appear at the plea hearing, and a warrant instead was issued for her arrest. The warrant is still outstanding.
England and Armstrong also stand accused of three charges of misdemeanor theft by check. A case was filed against England in Dallas County Criminal Court on August 14, 1995, that alleges she passed a bad check in the amount of $100.75 at a Dallas Tom Thumb store on April 25, 1995. Armstrong is accused of passing two checks at the same store--one on December 19, 1994, for $100.75; and one on March 18, 1995, for $23.13. The first check was returned for insufficient funds; the second because Armstrong no longer had the bank account on which the check was drawn.
Taylor, who represents both women, is on a medical leave and did not return phone calls from the Observer.
Armstrong claims the charges against her have been cleared up. "I paid them. They're all taken care of," she says of the bounced checks. She says she cannot remember when she paid them.
But a court clerk for County Criminal Court 9 Judge Ralph Taite, to whom Armstrong's cases are assigned, last Friday produced a computer record showing two outstanding warrants for Armstrong's arrest. "She needs to come in here and do what the court tells her," the clerk says. "She's not off the hook as far as the court is concerned."
Meanwhile, England, who has severed business ties with Armstrong, says she plans to return to Dallas to take care of her legal woes as soon as she can afford plane fare.
Two weeks ago, England accused graphic designer Cox and the Observer of spreading "negative energy" by focusing on the unpaid debts. Last week, after being confronted about jumping bond, she said, "I think your paper is being really, really shitty. Are you trying to ruin my character or something?