The case of the $67 million pants — the plaintiff later generously knocked it down to $54 million — is over for the time being, but for a week or so it vied with Paris Hilton in the public attention paid to jurisprudence.
But this case was sadder than that of the jailbird heiress and also more serious.
The background: After three years of unemployment, Washington attorney Roy Pearson finally netted a good job and treated himself to a $1,000 suit. He took it to his local dry cleaners for $10.50 in alterations.
The proprietors, Soo and Jin Chung, couldn’t immediately find the pants, and when they did, Pearson said they weren’t his. He refused their offer to pay for a new pair of pants because the sign on their store said “Satisfaction Guaranteed” and he wasn’t satisfied. So he sued.
For two years Pearson, acting as his own attorney, pursued the Chungs through the courts, exhausting their savings. He turned down a $12,000 settlement offer. He wanted $67 million. The sad fact of this case is that the $67 million, while ludicrous, was not implausibly arrived at given the accumulating compensatory and punitive damages in the capital’s consumer-protection laws and Pearson’s generous assessment of his own value as a lawyer.
And to Pearson it was also the principle of the matter. “Never before in recorded history have a group of defendants engaged in such misleading and unfair business practices,” he wrote in one filing.
Once the case came to trial, Judge Judith Bartnoff, noting Pearson’s disregard for facts and lack of reasonableness, ruled that he was entitled to “no compensation whatsoever.” The judge was a refreshing, if belated, voice of common sense and reason, but everything else involved with the case suffered.
The biggest loser might have been the American legal system because the case brought reporters from all over the world to exclaim about its ridiculous excesses.
The Chungs were awarded court costs, perhaps somewhere between $1,000 and $5,000, but they will have to sue to recover their tens of thousands of dollars in legal costs. And the single-minded Pearson can yet appeal.
As for Pearson, he was awaiting reappointment to another term as a $96,000-a-year administrative law judge. He very likely is now not going to get it. And because of the publicity over his pants, he is probably unemployable as a lawyer.
But there is yet a role for him — as poster child in the cause of tort reform.