When a tri-state wedding photography studio shut down in January, it locked away marriage memories of 3,600 newlyweds -- and couples married as long as 11 years.
The N.J. Division of Consumer Affairs believes it now has a plan to get photographs and videos into the hands of brides and grooms, and some cash into the pockets of photographers and videographers who weren't paid by Celebration Studios.
"We want to do the fair thing in this case," Deputy Attorney General Lorraine Rak said yesterday in Superior Court in Morristown.
Rak outlined a class-action settlement that would establish a fund to pay photographers, videographers and the nearly 300 couples who contracted with the now-defunct company to have their weddings shot this year and next.
Couples whose photos and videos are in the possession of the state would pay fees to retrieve their items if they had been reimbursed by a credit-card company.
"It sounds reasonable to me," Superior Court Judge Catherine Langlois said.
Langlois signed an order allowing Capri Album Co., which worked with Celebration Studios, to give 18 completed albums to the state so they can be returned to their owners, and for the company to either return photographs to 220 couples or negotiate to finish their albums at wholesale price. The state is working out a similar deal with another wedding album company.
"That's the best news we've heard in three years," said Paul Liuzza, who has been waiting to get his photo album since he and wife Alysia married in 2005.
In January, the Division of Consumer Affairs seized Celebration Studios' warehouse in Clifton and confiscated more than 4,000 files. Rak said the office has identified photos and videos belonging to 3,600 consumers. Some of the photographs and videos date back to 1997, Rak said.
More than 1,600 couples filed complaints against Celebration Studios, which had offices in New Jersey, Manhattan and Philadelphia. Rak said 23 photographers and videographers claim they are owed a total of $108,000.
Photographers and videographers complained yesterday that the class-action approach will mean they will get only a fraction of what they are owed. "The fund is not going to have enough money to pay back everyone," videographer Richard Adrion said. "It's going to be pennies on the dollar."
Jeffrey Herrmann, the Celebration Studios attorney, said nobody would be forced to opt into the class-action settlement. However, those who don't would have to bring their own lawsuits against the company.
Under the proposal, couples who got reimbursed by credit-card companies would have to pay $500 if they used one photographer, an extra $250 for a second photographer and $450 if they used a videographer.
Jefferson resident Julia Gustafson, 30, is afraid her photographer of her September wedding won't turn the photos over to the state.
"I'm a picture person, so this is heartbreaking," said Gustafson, whose eyes had watered-up when she stood to ask the judge a question. She bought a $3,100 photo package and got nothing. Her photographer wants $900 to turn over what he has, she said.
Langlois is expected to sign off on the settlement Sept. 26. Couples, photographers and videographers will be notified within a month after that, Rak said.