Kick in the Pants

Thursday, May 3, 2007

IS THERE anything more absurd than someone pursuing a $65 million lawsuit over a lost pair of pants? Well, how about this same person being in a position to adjudicate the cases of other people? Or that there's a chance of his getting a new 10-year term as judge?

A panel of four D.C. officials is considering the reappointment of administrative law judge Roy L. Pearson Jr. in light of devastating publicity about a court case he brought. As reported by Post columnist Marc Fisher, Mr. Pearson wants his local dry cleaner to pay him millions of dollars for the "mental suffering, inconvenience and discomfort" caused by the loss of his pants as well as for his legal costs. The unfortunate people being sued by Mr. Pearson say that they offered reimbursement, tried to settle and even ended up finding what they believe are the pants. But Mr. Pearson persisted with his outrageous demands, and the owners of Custom Cleaners say they incurred staggering legal bills. A trial is set for next month; we hope a judge will finally inject some sense into proceedings that have already taken ludicrous amounts of time.

That Mr. Pearson was able to persist in such a case raises questions about D.C. consumer protection laws. The American Tort Reform Association said that city law, while well intentioned, is so loosely worded that it allows abuse. D.C. Attorney General Linda Singer and the D.C. Council need to take a look.

Equally serious is whether Mr. Pearson should continue in his $100,512 job adjudicating alleged civil infractions of D.C. rules. The case raises serious questions about his judgment and temperament. Moreover, this is not the first case involving Mr. Pearson that has raised such questions. The Virginia Court of Appeals, in a 2005 review of Mr. Pearson's divorce proceedings, upheld findings that he created "unnecessary litigation" in a relatively simple case and was responsible for "excessive driving up" of legal costs.

As the four-member judicial tenure commission considers another term for Mr. Pearson, it should think back to why the Office of Administrative Hearings was created in the first place: to increase public confidence in the system of administrative justice.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company