Couple Asks Judge To Order Plaintiff To Pay Legal Fees

By Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 7, 2007

A dry cleaning business is turning the tables on a man who unsuccessfully sued the firm for $54 million, asking a judge to order him to cover $83,000 in legal fees.

The motion, filed in D.C. Superior Court, comes less than two weeks after a judge denied Roy Pearson's claim over a pair of pants that allegedly went astray. Pearson accused Custom Cleaners of failing to honor the "Satisfaction Guaranteed" sign posted at the shop.

Attorneys for the business's owners, Soo and Jin Chung, wrote that Pearson, an administrative law judge, conducted himself in an outrageous manner since the dispute began in spring 2005.

"From his outrageous demands for compensation . . . to his amazingly voluminous discovery and motions practice to his unconscionable continual disregard for the Court's Orders, Plaintiff's motives have been clear -- quite simply, to harass Defendants and to attempt to utterly destroy their lives," attorney Christopher Manning wrote.

As a lawyer and an administrative law judge, Pearson should have known better, Manning said.

"Instead of honoring our judicial system, the plaintiff decided to use his intimate knowledge (and unreasonable interpretations) of District of Columbia laws to harass and exploit hard working South Korean immigrants who work in excess of 70 hours a week to live the American dream," he wrote.

Now Pearson must face consequences, Manning said, adding, "Simply put, Defendants ask the Court to compensate the parties who have truly suffered throughout this bizarre odyssey -- the Chungs."

The Chungs said they found Pearson's pants, but Pearson said they were not the ones he had left at the Northeast Washington cleaners. He rejected offers to settle for as much as $12,000.

A lawyer for the poor for much of his career, Pearson represented himself, and in making his case, styled himself as a champion of the little guy, safeguarding consumer protection laws and the rights of ordinary citizens who lacked his legal acumen. But the Chungs contended that they were the proverbial little guy, small-business owners trying to make a living and set upon by a vengeful, litigious customer.

After two days of often tedious, occasionally tearful testimony, Judge Judith Bartnoff elected to draft a written decision, no doubt anticipating post-trial challenges by Pearson. When she issued her 23-page ruling, almost two weeks later, the judge methodically cut down every argument Pearson had made and said he was not entitled to a penny.

Convinced that Pearson had acted in bad faith, the Chungs' attorneys had made clear that they would seek attorneys' fees from Pearson, who was in financial straits when he filed the suit in 2005.

When the suit came to light this year, Pearson's term on the bench was coming to an end. Now his reappointment is up in the air, and if the commission that oversees administrative law judges declines to bring him back, Pearson could have a hard time complying with an order telling him to pay some or all of the Chungs' attorneys' fees.

Ordering a losing plaintiff to pay attorneys' fees is unusual and would require the judge to find that the case was frivolous. A hearing is likely in the coming weeks.

Pearson, who has kept a low profile outside the courthouse, did not respond to messages sent yesterday afternoon to his business and personal e-mail addresses.

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