Former Office of Judge Who Had Sued Over Pants Is Targeted

The probe by the D.C. inspector general focuses on the overall performance of the administrative hearings office, which employed Roy L. Pearson Jr., left.
The probe by the D.C. inspector general focuses on the overall performance of the administrative hearings office, which employed Roy L. Pearson Jr., left. (By Jacquelyn Martin -- Associated Press)
By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 1, 2007

The D.C. inspector general is investigating the city office that employed Roy L. Pearson Jr., the administrative law judge whose lawsuit over a pair of pants drew international attention.

The investigation goes beyond the conduct of Pearson, who lost his job this week. The inspector general is focusing on the overall performance of the Office of Administrative Hearings, which handles disputes involving city agencies. Pearson, who served two years on the bench, was one of about 30 judges in the office.

The inspector general's staff has been interviewing and surveying employees and reviewing cases to determine whether the office has complied with policies and procedures, Deputy Inspector General Austin A. Andersen said.

"We're looking to determine if the agency is effective and efficient and that its policies are being followed," Andersen said.

Authorities said the investigation began in late August, while Pearson was urging the Commission on Selection and Tenure of Administrative Law Judges to reappoint him. Sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the case, said Pearson told the commission about conflicts involving supervisors within the office.

Andersen said the investigation has nothing to do with Pearson and is among random audits of D.C. agencies. The investigation should wrap up by year's end, he said.

Tyrone T. Butler, chief administrative law judge, and the office's general counsel, Lisa Coleman, did not respond to calls seeking comment. Pearson also did not respond to messages.

News of the investigation came a day after Pearson formally received word that he will not be reappointed to another term as judge. The commission gave Pearson a letter that outlined its reasons for not giving him a 10-year term as a judge.

A draft of the letter, obtained by The Washington Post, barely mentions Pearson's $54 million lawsuit against Custom Cleaners, the Northeast Washington business that he says lost his pants. A D.C. Superior Court judge heard that case in June and ruled in favor of the dry cleaners.

The draft outlines concerns voiced by the commission in months of deliberations, including complaints that Pearson was a distraction to other judges. A source said it mirrors the final version of the letter that Pearson received. The draft tells Pearson that the panel found a "lack of judicial temperament and judgment in the conduct of your judicial duties."

The commission also noted in the draft that some of Pearson's colleagues on the bench opposed his reappointment by citing his "refusal to be a team player" and his e-mails challenging Butler's integrity as chief judge.

The draft cites a March 9 e-mail in which Pearson wrote to all of the administrative judges that Butler was "trying to knife" him by compiling a list of reasons he should not be reappointed. In e-mails in September 2005, Pearson told the other judges that Butler was "incompetent and ethically challenged."

Butler initially took no position on Pearson's reappointment, then recommended retaining him and finally argued against keeping him.

In a footnote in the draft, the commission mentions Pearson's lawsuit and the "public notoriety" that resulted. The footnote says that the commission "questions the wisdom of the manner" in which Pearson pursued the suit but that other factors led to the decision against reappointing him.

Pearson, 57, had made about $100,000 a year and lately had been serving as attorney adviser for the office while awaiting the commission's decision.

The commission's members included its chairman, D.C. Superior Court Judge Robert R. Rigsby; Judge Anita Josey-Herring, presiding judge of Family Court; and Peter Willner, a senior policy analyst at the nonprofit Council for Court Excellence. Butler and George Valentine, deputy D.C. attorney general, are nonvoting members.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company