Judge Says Cleaners' Bid Not Frivolous

By Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 17, 2007

The judge who sent Roy Pearson packing gave him a final sendoff yesterday.

In a written order, D.C. Superior Court Judge Judith Bartnoff offered her take on the efforts by the Northeast Washington dry cleaners to collect attorneys' fees stemming from Pearson's failed lawsuit over a pair of pants. They were hardly frivolous, as Pearson had claimed, she said.

Ordinarily, awarding attorneys' fees against a consumer plaintiff such as Pearson would be unusual, Bartnoff said.

"But this is an unusual case, in which the plaintiff attempted to take what was at best a misunderstanding about one pair of pants and expand it to a claim of $67 million, based on legal theories that -- once they clearly were articulated -- were unsupported in fact or in law," the judge said.

On Monday, in a bid to bring the case to an end, the owners of Custom Cleaners withdrew their demand for attorneys' fees and asked Pearson to forgo his plans to appeal the verdict against him.

But Pearson, who had sought attorneys' fees of his own, didn't bite and, a day later, filed official notice that he would appeal the case.

The suit began in 2005. Pearson, an administrative law judge, claimed that Custom Cleaners lost pants that he had brought in for alterations. The cleaners claimed to have found the pants, but Pearson said they weren't his.

When the owners balked at his demand that they buy him a new suit, Pearson sued -- for $67 million. A lawyer for the poor for many years before he became a judge, Pearson claimed that the owners had violated the city's consumer protection laws and that he was entitled to the millions he was seeking.

The case became an international story, and when it went to trial in June, both Pearson and lead defendant Soo Chung broke down in tears on the witness stand.

In a decision issued later that month, Bartnoff ruled that Pearson, who had reduced his demand to $54 million, was not entitled to a cent of the Chungs' money.

And the troubles for Pearson were only beginning.

The city commission that oversees administrative law judges was already reviewing his application for reappointment, and last week the commission sent him a letter saying he may not be reappointed. Next month, Pearson will have a chance to appear before the commission to try to hold on to his job.

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