Two-day pants trial over, ruling on the way

John O'Brien Jun. 14, 2007, 10:00am


The Chungs

WASHINGTON, D.C. - An emotional trial that has $54 million on the line wrapped up in Washington D.C. Superior Court Wednesday.

The case concerns a pair of missing pants.

Closing arguments were given in the case of Roy Pearson's missing pants, and Judge Judith Bartnoff said she will issue her ruling by the end of next week. The bench trial attracted media from all over the world and left seating in the courtroom a standing-room-only situation.

The suit has been criticized as the picture of frivolousness. Pearson, an administrative law judge in D.C., says Custom Cleaners, run by a Korean couple who came to the U.S. in 1992, lost a pair of his pants and demands $54 million in compensation.

Pearson says the company did not uphold the standards of a "Satisfaction Guaranteed" sign and should pay not only for the emotional distress it caused but for all the time he has spent on the lawsuit over the past two years.

On Tuesday, Pearson, who is representing himself, cried twice during his testimony.

"What if this had been..." Pearson said before choking up.

Not only did Pearson add to the emotion in the courtroom, he contributed to the heat. The room is not air conditioned and Pearson spoke so softly that fans had to be shut off so Pearson could be heard.

And though Bartnoff granted him a recess to regain composure after breaking down the first time, he again became emotional and had to submit the rest of his testimony in writing.

Wednesday, it was Soo Chung who had trouble overcoming her emotions when she was asked about the effect the lawsuit has had on her family, which includes husband Jin and son Ki. They claim they found the pants a few days later, but Pearson claimed they were not the right ones.

Soo Chung twice began crying on the stand, and Pearson did not cross-examine her. Pearson, though, was cross-examined by defense attorney Christopher Manning Wednesday. He was asked if it is reasonable to sue for $67 million (his original demand) instead of accepting one of the three settlements offered to him.

"I think it is reasonable under the law," Pearson said.

Pearson also confirmed that his first letter to the Chungs stated that if he wasn't compensated for the cost of the suit ($1,150) then he would sue for at least $50,000.

Bartnoff interrupted the questioning to offer to Pearson a hypothetical, which described a person who took a red sweater to the dry cleaner and was given a sweater back that the cleaner believed was the right one and had a tag on the sweater that matches the tag on the ticket.

If the customer claims it is not the right sweater and demands $1,000, and the cleaner has a "Satisfaction Guaranteed" sign in the window, should the cleaners pay the $1,000.

"Yes," Pearson responded.

Also during the cross examination, defense brought up Pearson's divorce record. In 1997, Pearson rented a residence in D.C. that his wife did not know about, and his step-daughter was a cause of contention and forbidden to visit their residence. Pearson threatened to leave if she showed up.

When the step-daughter did snow up one evening, Pearson moved out the next day. In the divorce, he requested spousal support from his wife and the attorneys fees he incurred representing himself.

In March 2005, Pearson was ordered to pay a $12,000 portion of his wife's attorneys fees. At this time, he had quit his job but was collecting unemployment and had two maxed out credit cards. A couple of months later, he began working at his current job and had a judge testify to his need for a suit during work.

On the first day, Pearson described himself as a consumer's attorney and rambled so much during his testimony about his childhood that Bartnoff had to ask, "Why don't we get to why we're here?"

He also argued for attorneys fees for himself and made the argument that every day the cleaner closes shop and covers its windows is a new offense of the D.C. Consumer Protection Act because the "Satisfaction Guaranteed" sign can't be seen at night. Another argument, made on the second day, stated that a person does not even have to be a customer at the store to have a right to damages.

Also, he wants the cleaners to pay for the cost of renting a car that he would take to another dry cleaner. His claim that cleaners violated a sign that reads "Same Day Service" was tossed out.

During the defense's closing argument Wednesday, it pleaded for common sense to prevail. Pearson escaped the courtroom through the basement exit, avoiding the media.

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