Friday, June 15, 2007

Hell Hath No Fury . . .

Like a Lawyer Spurned.

I'm not sure how I missed this story. One of the LLWL* mentioned this story to me, saying it was just my kind of outrage. She certainly knows me well. Sometimes I get so caught up in the political outrages and war stories that I miss the other stuff. This one may be lawyer fluff, but at least it's not Paris Hilton (whoever she is). As the NYTimes noted, the trial has been lampooned on talk radio and in the blogosphere as an example of American legal excess. See also, Lawsuit Against Dry Cleaners Rivets the Nation.

The case of the purloined pants, as told by the Washington Post, in Lawyer's Price For Missing Pants: $65 Million, is pure poetry:

When the neighborhood dry cleaner misplaced Roy Pearson's pants, he took action. He complained. He demanded compensation. And then he sued. Man, did he sue.

Two years, thousands of pages of legal documents and many hundreds of hours of investigative work later, Pearson is seeking to make Custom Cleaners pay -- would you believe more than the payroll of the entire Washington Nationals roster?

He says he deserves millions for the damages he suffered by not getting his pants back, for his litigation costs, for "mental suffering, inconvenience and discomfort," for the value of the time he has spent on the lawsuit, for leasing a car every weekend for 10 years and for a replacement suit, according to court papers.

Pearson is demanding $65,462,500. The original alteration work on the pants cost $10.50.

By the way, Pearson is a lawyer. Okay, you probably figured that. But get this: He's a judge, too -- an administrative law judge for the District of Columbia.

The New York Times, Judge Tries Suing Pants Off Dry Cleaners, observed:

The case of the judge’s pants, which opened for trial in a packed courtroom here on Tuesday, has been lampooned on talk radio and in the blogosphere as an example of American legal excess. And it has spurred complaints to the District of Columbia Bar and city officials from national tort reform and trial lawyer groups worried about its effect on public trust in the legal system.

“I don’t know of any other cases that have been quite this ridiculous,” said Paul Rothstein, a professor of law at Georgetown University.

The trial, laced with references to inseam measurements, cuffs and designer labels, got off to a rocky start. Judge Judith Bartnoff of District of Columbia Superior Court limited Judge Pearson’s last-minute bid to broaden aspects of his case and cut short his efforts to portray himself as a “private attorney general” championing the rights of every Washington consumer.

“You are not a we, you are an I,” Judge Bartnoff said in one of several testy exchanges with Judge Pearson, 57, who is representing himself. “You are seeking damages on your own behalf, and that is all.”

See also, Judge Who Sued Dry Cleaners for Millions Cries in Court. As I was reading about this case, an issue that I hadn't seen addressed anywhere came to mind. Pearson initially brought the pants to the cleaners to be let out because he had gained weight. That suggests that they had been sitting in his closet for some time, a time when he was thinner (we all know how that goes). So, the pants were probably at least several years old, and therefore not even worth the original cost of the suit. Yet, he demanded the full cost of a new suit -- and then escalated skyward from there.

The trial just concluded and it sounds like the Judge hearing the case sounds like she thought he had a pants full -- of something. As one blogger said , Wearing Down the Judicial System With a Pair of Pants:

Don't look for Roy Pearson to be out shopping for new suit pants this weekend. At the end of the $54 million pants suit in D.C. Superior Court yesterday, Judge Judith Bartnoff said she wouldn't issue a decision until next week but nonetheless gave a strong hint of her direction.

After listening to Pearson argue for hour upon hour that he was somehow protecting the interests of all Washingtonians by using the D.C. consumer protection law to punish Custom Cleaners for allegedly losing a pair of his pants, Bartnoff said: 'This is a very important statute to protect consumers. It's also very important that statutes like this are not misused.'

I sure hope this guy is as much a loser with this case as he is elsewhere with his life. He actually cried on the stand (he should be crying, having made himself a laughingstock forever -- the name Pearson will no doubt become synonymous with Pouty Pants).

During his testimony, "Pearson described in detail 'his history of community service, his weight gain as a middle-aged man, his financial woes and his painful divorce.' " Judge Pearson Breaks Down on Stand. As noted in the Washington Post, Pants Extra, a Virginia appeals court decided in his divorce case that Pearson has abused the legal system with excessive filings. What a shock. and then there's this:

After working for a quarter century for Neighborhood Legal Services, Pearson was unemployed for more than two years prior to becoming an administrative law judge. During those jobless years, Pearson testified, he had no car, no bank account, and cash holdings of only around $1,000 to $2,000. He said he left his longtime position with the federally funded legal services program because his boss 'ceased communicating with me. I thought he was being unreasonable, so I quit.' During the time after that, Pearson said he collected unemployment benefits and was enrolled in a utility assistance program that allowed him to avoid paying for heat."

And as the New York Times noted:

Judge Pearson’s future as an administrative law judge is in limbo. His two-year term expired on May 2, and a judicial panel has yet to decide on his reappointment.

In the meantime, Judge Pearson remains on the city payroll as an attorney adviser to the Office of Administrative Hearings, at a salary of $100,512.

After this episode, I'm sure they can't wait to get rid of him either. Somehow, I think he might have a lot more to cry about in his future.

For those interesting in knowing more about the case, the law firm representing the Chungs also put together the factual history of the case at their website, along with a place to make donations to defray their costs, see The Facts of Pearson v. Chung.

A Postscript: I couldn't resist including a collection of some of the captions on this case:

Mr. Fancy Pants
Pants Suit
The ’suit over the suit, Day One ...
But the Pants!!
Sue Your Pants Off
Judge takes little guy to the cleaners
Judge Drops Pants; Suit Still On

(* Lady Lawyers Who Lunch = my officemates)


Anonymous said...

Justice is well served. Hail to judge Judith.Unreasonable, heartless and injustice Pearson should be ashamed of preying on hard working elders.

Anonymous said...

As you are undoubtedly aware, a $54 million lawsuit was recently brought in DC District Court against a small neighborhood drycleaners over a pair of alleged lost trousers. While the Court found resoundingly in favor of the business owners, Jin and Soo Chung, their ordeal is not yet over—they have drained their saving accounts contesting this frivolous lawsuit, and they have racked up over $100,000 in legal expenses.

In order to help the Chungs defray their legal bills, ILR and the American Tort Reform Association are co-hosting a fundraiser on Tuesday evening, July 24 at 6 p.m. at the US Chamber Building in Washington, DC. Unfortunately, businesses large and small across America must deal every day with similar extortionist tactics from some plaintiffs’ lawyers. The collective outcome is not justice, but lost jobs, ruined businesses and billions of dollars in lost economic opportunity. Additional details, sponsorship opportunities and easy online registration are available at