Two Georgetown University seniors, who for months had complained to university officials about slime and mold festering in their dormitory bathrooms, won cash damages Friday in D.C. Small Claims Court despite an hours-long defense of the university by two attorneys from a highpowered law firm.
"This strikes at the very heart of the fitness of these premises for human occupation - the bathroom," said D.C. Superior Court Judge Eugene Hamilton.
Hamilton ordered the university to pay $70 apiece to roommates Patricia Roonie and Stacie Glass for "breach of implied contract" for not adequately cleaning two bathrooms in the students' dormitory. About 70 students share the bathrooms on their floor.
A university spokesman called a student suit "a rare event. And we've never had a bathroom suit before."
The problem began when the university decided as an experiment in cost-cutting to eliminate the professional maid service for the bathrooms in Copley Hall, a dormitory housing about 350 students.
Although Copley residents were charged $70 less than everybody else, the two seniors say they were never informed of the change.
"Three weeks after the term started, we noticed the rooms were getting rather filthy," Pat Rooney testified. Even after a student was hired to take the place of the professional service, "there was all sorts of slime over the shower stalls, mold on the walls, large hair balls. The shower curtain stuck to you, and the whole place stank."
"We kept trying to go back and complain, but they just wouldn't listen," Rooney said. So, a month ago, they filed suit.
The university's attorneys, members of the prestigious firm of Williams and Connolly, tried twice to settle out of court - once offering $6 and then, on the judge's suggestion, $35. The students, both planning to go to law school next year, refused.
One of the attorneys was David Povich, who has represented such noteworthy clients as Rep. Charles C. Diggs Jr. and Hancho Kim, a defendant in the South Korean influence-buying scheme on Capitol Hill.
Looking perturbed, Povich paced back and forth the long hallway outside the courtroom while the judge ruled on such 10-minute case as a landlord who did not give back a tenant's security deposit.
"A court's a court," Povich said. "If a judge can sit down and listen to this thing I can spend my time here as well. I don't feel embarrassed about being here."
Later, he said, "Most people want to resolve things like this. But the two students don't care about the enormous expenditure of time, effort and money. They have time. It doesn't cost them anything."
Just then, Povich was greeted by D.C. Court of Appeals Judge John Kern.
"Good God," Kern said. "What's a man like you doing here in a civil action?"
Povich, red-faced, said later that he was in court simply to observe Phillip Ward, who has been with the 52-member firm eight months. "Mr. Ward is a new, young attorney. We don't like to send new, young attorneys to a case alone."
During the proceedings, which lasted more than six hours on three separate days, Povich occasionally drifted over to whisper something to Ward, who would promptly pop up and ask a pointed question about the dirty bathrooms in vigorous, earnest tones.
The university has until Wednesday to file on appeal. CAPTION: Picture, Patricia Rooney, left, end Stacie Glass, outside Copley dorm after court victory. By Linda Wheeler - The Washington Post