Tearful Testimony in $54 Million Pants Lawsuit

D.C. lawyer breaks down in court, says dry cleaners lost his pants.

ByABC News
June 12, 2007, 9:15 AM

June 13, 2007 — -- A Washington, D.C. law judge broke down in tears and had to take a break from his testimony because he became too emotional while questioning himself about his experience with a missing pair of pants.

Administrative law judge Roy Pearson is representing himself in civil court and claimed that he is owed $54 million from a local dry cleaner who he says lost his pants, despite a sign in their store which ensures "Satisfaction Guaranteed."

The case gained national attention soon after the lawsuit was filed. The pants are expected to be introduced into evidence, although the judge says the pants are not his, and the correct pants are still missing.

The sartorial loss caused Pearson to suffer what he calls severe "mental suffering, inconvenience and discomfort."

The defendants, who own Custom Cleaners in the Fort Lincoln section of the district, told ABC News last month that they, too, are feeling inconvenience and discomfort.

They are expected to present their case Wednesday.

In his opening statement, Pearson came out swinging, telling the court "never before in recorded history have a group of defendants engaged in such misleading and unfair business practices."

Repeatedly referring to himself as "we,'' Pearson sought to represent himself as the leader of a class of tens of thousands, if not a half million local residents he believes are at risk of falling for such insidious business practices as posting Satisfaction Guaranteed' signs and "Same Day Service."

"Mr. Pearson, you are not "we.'' You are an "I," Judge Judith Bartnoff told Pearson.

But as he explained the details of the missing pants, Pearson struggled to get through his hour and a half of testimony, most of which concerned his credentials and his background.

He became visibly emotional when he reached the point in the story where he confronted Soo Chung from the dry cleaning store.

"These are not my pants,'' he testified yesterday, telling her "I have in my adult life, with one exception, never worn pants with cuffs."

But Chung insisted, Pearson testified.

"These are your pants."

Pearson rushed from the courtroom, tears streaming down his face.

Pearson has a long history with the Chungs. In 2002, after a disagreement over another pair of Pearson's pant which Custom Cleaners allegedly lost - and compensated him for with $150 - Pearson was banned from the store, defense attorney Christopher Manning claimed in court.

Manning said that Pearson pleaded with the Chungs to let him back into the store, because he didn't have a car, he said, and they were the only dry cleaners in the neighborhood.

"This case is very simple,'' Manning explained. "It's about one sign and the plaintiff's outlandish interpretation."

Even fellow trial lawyers are offended.

"It's outrageous and it's shameful,'' Bill Schulz, spokesman for the American Association for Justice, the largest trial lawyer group in the nation, told ABC News. The A.A.J. filed a complaint about Pearson recently with the District of Columbia bar association.

Schulz said the case is an embarrassing anomoly that "should not be used as an indictment against the civil justice system in this country because, it works quite well, thank you, for people -- ordinary people -- who are seeking real justice for real cases of negligence and wrongdoing."

"It's laughable,'' said Philip K. Howard, founder of the non-partisan law policy coalition Common Good. "It's like a parody of the American system of justice.

"Frivolous lawsuits like this one are an embarrassment to the profession,'' said attorney Eric Turkewitz, who writes a personal injury law blog.

"I see he has a claim for $500,000 in emotional damages. I don't doubt that he has some emotional suffering, but I don't think it's related to the pants. I suspect he'll be sanctioned."

The trouble began over a $10.50 dry cleaning bill for a pair of prized pants in 2005. That figure ballooned to $67 million dollars, but in recently amended court filings, Pearson now said he is only seeking $54 million. Last week, his term on the bench reportedly expired. It's unclear whether it will be renewed.

The lawsuit is based in large part on Pearson's contention that he was taken in by the "Satisfaction Guaranteed'' sign hanging on the store's wall. Pearson said at one point in court filings, that he planned to call 63 witnesses.

Defending themselves against the suit -- for two years running -- are Korean immigrants Soo and Jin Chung and their son, who own Custom Cleaners and several other local dry cleaning shops.

The bad blood between customer and store dates back to 2002, when the first pair of pants was allegedly lost by the dry cleaners.

The Chungs gave Pearson a $150 check for a new pair of pants. Three years later, Pearson said he returned to Custom Cleaners and, like some real-life "Groundhog Day" nightmare, another pair of trousers went missing.

It was May 2005 and Pearson was about to begin his new job as an administrative judge. He said in court filings he wanted to wear a nice outfit to his first day of work. He said that he tried on five Hickey Freeman suits from his closet, but found them all to be "too tight," according to the Washington Post, which first reported the story. Pearson said he brought one pair in for alterations and they went missing -- gray trousers with what Pearson described in court papers as blue and red stripes on them.