Gene Johnson said all he wanted was a little night music. So last fall he bought two tickets for the San Diego Symphony's 1986-87 winter season.
But Johnson, along with other symphony season ticket holders, never got to hear a note. In the wake of the symphony's dispute with its players, the association's directors canceled the season. Johnson asked for his money back, but like other ticket holders, he never got that either. Unlike the others, however, he sued--for $500.
Wednesday--six months after the canceled season, three months after filing the small claims action--Johnson finally got paid. But not from the symphony, which lost the case in court.
Johnson, 57, a Point Loma investment and land entrepreneur, is furious about having to obtain a writ of execution and let county marshals siphon the money from the symphony's bank account. Johnson finally got $550, including the price of the tickets, interest and court fees.
"The whole thing irks me considerably," he said, adding that he hopes that many of the other 2,600 season subscribers will take similar action. "They acted like such a deadbeat organization. I'm a very representative subscriber, but I will never again entrust money to the symphony. I think that's typical of a high percentage of other subscribers. I've got news for them--if they don't have an audience, they don't have anything."
The San Diego Symphony Assn.--in this case, the defendant--has had other problems with canceled seasons. It will definitely not fund this year's Summer Pops at Mission Bay, and has announced a self-imposed deadline of Friday for funding the fall concert season. Sources close to the symphony indicate that, barring a miracle, that season will also be canceled.
Herbert J. Solomon, chairman of the symphony board, declined comment on the Johnson matter, referring all calls to marketing director Melissa Smith.
"We do not dispute his claims," Smith said.
She explained that losers in small claims cases have 20 days in which to pay or appeal. The symphony tried to pay on the 20th day, she said, but was told that a writ of execution had already been issued.
"That freezes your ability to pay," she said. "You must then let the marshals follow through on the necessary steps."
Smith said two other season subscribers have filed small claims actions against the symphony, and those were settled out of court.
"Think of the hundreds who have donated money to us," she said. "Think of the thousands willing to wait. To blow this out of context, if that is his intent . . . that I am sorry for."
Applied for Refund
Johnson said he applied for a refund in November, after the season was canceled. He took his tickets to the box office and got a receipt for them, which was later used as evidence. He then received notice that he and all other subscribers would receive refunds in about six weeks.
"I waited until January," he said, "then I heard that they couldn't grant the refunds, that it was too much money. I questioned them at the time, but (Executive Director Wesley O.) Brustad told me they were using the funds to pay operating debts. I mean, they admitted that.
"At the time, I checked with other organizations--East County Performing Arts Center and the Civic Theatre--and was told they would never use such money to pay debts. My whole feeling is that the funds were improperly used."
Johnson said he was contacted by a symphony official after he filed his claim in February. She offered payment, he said, "on the installment plan." He told her that was unacceptable.
After the judge decided the case in his favor, Johnson said, he was told that a symphony financial officer would be in touch.
"I never heard from anyone," he said. "This is not the kind of behavior an organization of this kind should exhibit. For me to support them again, I'd have to see years of improvement. I consider this disgraceful."