By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Roy L. Pearson Jr., whose $54 million lawsuit against a Northeast Washington dry-cleaning shop was rejected in court, is about to lose his job as an administrative law judge, sources said last night.
A city commission voted yesterday against reappointing Pearson to the bench of the Office of Administrative Hearings, which hears cases involving various D.C. boards and agencies. Pearson, who was up for a 10-year term, had tried to hold on to the job.
The commission's discussions are not public. Sources familiar with the deliberations said the panel hasn't drafted a letter formally notifying Pearson of its decision. Until that is done, the sources said, the decision is not final. The letter could be sent early next week, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the case.
The Commission on Selection and Tenure of Administrative Law Judges first notified Pearson in August that it might not reappoint him, several weeks after he lost his civil suit against the dry cleaners. Yesterday's vote came after months of discussions, including two recent hearings in which Pearson defended his two-year record on the bench.
The five members of the commission appeared after their 90-minute meeting at D.C. Superior Court but had no major announcement. Speaking on their behalf, D.C. Superior Court Judge Robert R. Rigsby, the chairman, declined to comment on whether a decision was made, saying the panel was "still deliberating." A follow-up meeting was set for Monday.
The sources said the panel has reviewed not only the lawsuit but also Pearson's work and temperament as a judge. He was appointed in 2005 to an initial two-year term.
Pearson waged a titanic legal battle against Custom Cleaners, alleging that the shop on Bladensburg Road NE lost a pair of pants he brought in for $10.50 worth of alterations. The owners, Soo Chung and her family, said they found the pants, but Pearson said in his 2005 lawsuit that they were not his. The case went to trial in June, ending with a D.C. Superior Court judge's ruling in favor of the Chungs.
Pearson has not responded to recent requests for comment.
If the panel carries out its decision against reappointing him, Pearson, 57, could take the case to the D.C. Court of Appeals. In a separate filing, he is asking the appellate court to overturn the decision in the dry-cleaning case.
The sources said that had Pearson's term not ended this May, at the height of his battle with the dry cleaners, he might have kept the job. His term has expired, but Pearson has remained on the payroll, making $100,000 a year as an attorney adviser for the Office of Administrative Hearings.
Administrative law judges hear cases involving city entities such as the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, the D.C. Taxicab Commission, the Department of Health and the banking department.
Pearson isn't the only person who has faced fallout from the lawsuit. Last month, the owners of Custom Cleaners closed their store on Bladensburg Road NE. They continue to operate Happy Cleaners on Seventh Street NW, across from the Washington Convention Center.
The voting members of the commission are Rigsby, D.C. Superior Court Judge Anita Josey-Herring, presiding judge of Family Court, and Peter Willner, a senior policy analyst at the nonprofit Council for Court Excellence. Two others serve as nonvoting members: Tyrone T. Butler, chief administrative law judge, and George Valentine, a senior lawyer in the D.C. attorney general's office.