F. Lee Bailey wouldn't have touched it. A woman had missed a payment, so her vacuum cleaner had been repossessed. Any lawyer who took the case could look forward to a small fee, a ton of work, no publicity and a slim chance of outgunning a major corporation.
So, of course, Sol Rosen went at the case the way O.J. Simpson goes at airports.
"I sued the bleeper-bleepers," said Rosen. "Sued every one of those helping bleeps I could find."
And won. As usual.
For nearly 15 years, Sol Rosen has been huffing, hustling and winning in a role he seems born for: attorney for Common Man Washington.
Eighty hours a week, and at an equal number of miles an hour, Rosen operates out of the 12th floor of a dingy downtown Washington office building.
The paint in his office is peeling. The view from his window is glorious, breath-taking - a heating duct. Occasionally, Rosen sleeps on the couch.
But it all fits. Rosen knows a lot of law, and disdains a lot of its expensive, stylized trappings. The heart of his practice resides firmly in his head, his jacket pocket - and the seat of his pants.
"Smarts and savvy and a little bullbleep," says Rosen. "All I've ever needed."
Since he arrived here from his native Brooklyn, Sol Zalel Rosen has never had a secretary, or a piece of fancy-dan office furniture, or an hourly rate in three figures.
He carries the latest Playboy in his satchel and greets every man as "buddy" and every woman as "dear." As for personal style, the socks he wears with a gray suit are likely to be bright blue.
But this is a lawyer who was once assigned a case on no notice, and won it an hour later. Who can remember every detail of a 10-year-old case. Who can be called at 3 a.m. and not snarl.
Still, Sol Rosen has made enemies in high places.
He once heard a judge call another attorney "scum." Many lawyers would have forgotten it. Rosen took the man before the commission that reviews the fitness of judges to serve.
Rosen has been criticized himself, most often for a keep-'em-moving approach to clients.
The joke around U.S. District Court here is that there is a Sol Rosen doll. Wind it up and its client pleads guilty. While Rosen acknowledges his reputation, he claims he often recommends guilty pleas to clients "because I know the system and because it often does them more good in the long run."
Many of those clients have been assigned to Rosen by the court, and his appetite for such work is nothing less than Gargantuan.
In 1971, Rosen ran up the stupefying total of $70,000 in federal fees for representing indigent defendants. In slightly more than 230 working days that year, he represented more than 300 people. Singlehandedly, he was responsible for legislation that placed a $17,000 annual individual ceiling on a lawyer's earnings from court-appointed cases.
But Rosen cannot be accused of working without imagination.
One of his cleverest moves came when he was representing a policeman in a marijuana possession case.A police dog named Narco, specially trained to sniff out marijuana, was the crux of the government case.
So Rosen subpoenaed the dog. The prosecutor refused to produce him. Rosen argued improper evidentiary procedure. The judge agreed. The policeman went free.
Rosen claims that lately he is tiring of such stunts, and tiring even faster of the justice mills he feels criminal courts are becoming. In the past few years, he has taken many fewer court-appointed cases (only about 70 in 1977) and is trying to move into consumer and labor law.
"After all these years," said Rosen, who is 41, "it's a thankless job. The criminals defense lawyer is portrayed as an ogre. Everybody says it's his fault that rapists and murderers are walking the streets . . . The emotional torment isn't worth the sacrifice."
But Rosen in action belies some of that illusionment.
At 9 a.m. on a recent Wednesday, he hit Superior Court like a 45 record suddenly being switched to 78.
His first move was to walk into a clerk's office, without knocking, and permanently borrow a Kleenex, without asking.
Next, while trying to find a client, he walked into a crowded courtroom and called out: "Leon Butler?" Fifty heads whipped around, not including Butler's, but Rosen did not appear embarrassed in the slightest.
A minute later, he was in another courtroom. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for a larceny suspect who had violated parole. Rosen had a short time to interview a 26-year-old man who would not look him in the eye.
Nevertheless, in less than two minutes, Rosen ascertained that the man was a $300-a-day heroin addict, that his parents were dead, that he had a child and that he wanted drug treatment at a federal prison-hospital.
Rosen's style would never make it at Harvard. Waving his arms, tapping a pen on the suspect's criminal record sheet for emphasis, Rosen said:
"Here it is, man to man, Tommy. You owe the good people of the District of Columbia 15 years of your life. If you think you're bulljiving anybody, forget it. It's up to you, buddy, know what I mean? Put it this way: you've got to play ball if you want to stay (at the drug treatment facility)."
"Ready?" asked the judge's clerk.
"Ready to rumble," replied Rosen. Fifteen minutes later, his client was out of D.C. Jail and on his way to the federal prison-hospital.
"I guess I've always had this passion for the little guy," Rosen said, as he prowled corridors, searching again for Leon Butler.
"I just don't like to see the little guy get bleeped. I mean, put it this way: How would you feel? To my guys, it's the most important thing in the world right then.
"I don't need the great issues of the day. This is a tremendous satisfaction. I've accomplished more than I ever thought I would."