Wednesday, June 13, 2007
By Griff Jenkins
It is unprincipled people like Pearson that causes misery for everyone else. How selfish can one person be to think they should be rewarded $54 million dollars for a pair of pants. Totally ridiculous.
WASHINGTON — Day two of the case of the $54 million pants opened much in the same fashion as the trial had begun, with plaintiff Roy Pearson needling specific statutes and interpretations of them, prompting more wasted hours of clarification-seeking from Judge Judy Bartnoff.
On the second day, I wore an equally outrageous pair of Lily Pulitzer pants as on Tuesday’s court date, and I had a better seat —- in the jury box, just feet away from the action.
When Judge Bartnoff came in the courtroom, she caught a glimpse of my pants and smiled. But soon after, Pearson began going back to issues from day one, namely his divorce case, and Judge Bartnoff took charge, dismissing Pearson’s effort to re-try his divorce settlement.
Pearson’s remaining issues over evidence and “settlement demands” prompted Judge Bartnoff at one point to say, “I don’t know what we’re doing at this point … I thought we were talking about evidence?”
After a short break, the cross-examination of Pearson by defense attorney Chris Manning began. Manning proceeded to force Pearson to address his bitter divorce, his financial woes and his first encounter with the Chungs in 2002 which resulted in a compensation check of $150, which Pearson had demanded.
Manning asked Pearson if it made him mad when the dry cleaners lost his pants and Pearson said, “No,” adding, “My temperament, generally, is I don’t get angry.”
That shocked most everyone in the room considering the guy is seeking $54 million in retribution in this case.
The real crux of the cross-examination came when Manning began trying to illicit Pearson’s definition of what is a “reasonable” interpretation of a sign that reads: “Satisfaction Guaranteed”
Manning asked directly, “Is it reasonable to sue someone for upwards of $67 million?” And after several attempts at waffling, Pearson finally answered, “Yes.”
A window into Pearson’s aggressive pursuit of the pants in 2005 came when Manning confirmed with the witness that Pearson had sent a letter to the Chungs demanding $1,150 compensation (despite the Chungs producing the pants that matched the receipt) or else he would “sue them for not less that $50,000.”
Nonetheless, Pearson maintained throughout the cross that he was entitled to “unconditional satisfaction” under the Washington, D.C.’s Consumer Protection Act.
After the cross, the plaintiff rested at which point Manning immediately requested a ruling asking for a “move for judgment as a matter of law on all claims.”
Judge Bartnoff made a partial ruling denying Pearson’s claims with regard to the one sign that read “Same Day Service.” Bartnoff cited a lack of evidence and told Pearson the sign simply meant same day service was an available service at the cleaners — not a guaranteed service every time — particularly when not requested, as in Pearson’s case.
Judge Bartnoff ended her ruling by telling Pearson, “you’re simply reading things into it that just aren’t there.”
But in the matter of the “Satisfaction Guaranteed” sign and the dispute over whether the pants produced were or were not Pearson’s, no closure was reached and the room broke for lunch.
After the break, Manning began his defense calling just three witnesses: a community activist who testified favorably on the contributions of the Chungs to the community; a customer of the cleaners who believed that the Chungs provided “very good service” and said his interpretation of “Satisfaction Guaranteed” meant if the Chungs couldn’t resolve a problem then they should compensate the customer for the cost of the clothing item “and nothing more.” The final witness was the co-owner of Custom Dry Cleaners, Soo Chung.
Mrs. Chung became very emotional and broke down sobbing during her testimony when Manning began to ask about the toll that the case has taken on her business and her life. Judge Bartnoff called for another break, and when the testimony began again, Soo Chung once again began crying, though she was able to answer that she had suffered “economically, emotionally and healthwise too.”
It’s worth noting that the drama was heightened some by the mere fact that the testimony was done through a Korean translator as Mrs. Chung does not speak fluent English. But in the end, Pearson at least had the good sense not to cross examine her.
Closing arguments got a bit heated between Judge Bartnoff and Pearson when things delved into an argument over what Pearson was entitled to in terms of statutory and punitive damages. I’m no lawyer, but I was a little surprised that rather than making a sort of coherent and impassioned plea for his case, Pearson continued citing statutes and cases that proved his claims under the Consumer Protection Act.
Manning’s closing argument was quite different. He painted Pearson as “one man who ruthlessly abused the legal system” and caused enormous harm to his clients. He cited Pearson’s divorce, financial status, history of litigiousness and a “wrath against the Chungs” since 2002. He ended his closing argument saying it is time to “support the idea of common sense… and wake up from the American nightmare created by Roy Pearson.”
When it was over, Judge Bartnoff chose not to issue a ruling from the bench but said a ruling can be expected by the end of the week. The decision didn’t exactly surprise me since Pearson has proved that he is a stickler for technical details, or perhaps Judge Bartnoff just wanted plenty of time to ensure the accuracy of her ruling.
At the press conference with the Chungs immediately following, Manning said he was “extraordinarily happy with how the trial went” in what he described as an “incredibly frivolous lawsuit.”
Pearson again chose to ignore the media.