Patterico's Pontifications

5/7/2007

Notes On The $65-Million Dry Cleaning Suit By D.C. Judge Roy L. Pearson, Jr.

Filed under: Buffoons,Current Events,General,Law — Justin Levine @ 1:17 am

[posted by Justin Levine]

Patterico has joined several others in condemning D.C. Administrative Judge Roy L. Pearson, Jr. based on his $65-million dollar lawsuit against a group of Korean immigrant dry cleaners after they lost his pants.

A few interesting notes and thoughts on this case that haven’t been reported in most media outlets…

1. The law that the judge is basing his lawsuit on is apparently based on a horrendous D.C. ‘consumer protection’ law that is eerily similar to one that was previously used and abused in California.

What makes this law so horrible? Simple: (a) The law is worded extremely broadly; (b) you don’t need standing to sue in court, and (c) you don’t need to prove damages. That is a surefire recipe for abuse and disaster in our legal system.

The broad contours of D.C.’s law allows virtually any business mistake to be spun as an “unlawful trade practice”.

But the worst part is that the law applies “whether or not any consumer is in fact misled, deceived or damaged…” and also allows a private citizen to sue under the law “whether acting for the interests of itself, its members, or the general public…”

So in other words, a single private citizen can take it upon himself to sue on behalf of “the general public” regardless if any third party was actually damaged or not.

Once you prove your “unlawful trade practice” you are then entitled to “treble damages” or $1,500 per violation (whichever is greater), along with “reasonable attorney’s fees” and punitive damages.

And if you can’t exactly prove your “unlawful trade practice” against the rest of society? No problem. You just offer to settle with the defendants who will consider paying you off in order to avoid the legal costs and hassles. That’s why you want to be sure to target small businesses and immigrant populations with this law. They will have less resources and savvy to be able to mount an effective defense. The “general public” that you are fighting on behalf of won’t be entitled to any of this shakedown money. But that’s ok, since they didn’t put the effort in to sue in the first place.

Think I’m just speculating here? Think again. This very scenario happened in California with its own “unfair competition” law.

California’s law was section 17200 of the Business and Professions Code. Just like D.C.’s current law, the old version of 17200 allowed for any individual to bring a lawsuit on behalf of the general public – without the need for court standing or proof of actual damages.

It was only a matter of time before people in the legal profession used the law to terrorize a host of small businesses. The outrage was so widespread that California eventually amended the law to force plaintiffs to have standing and prove damages. It actually had to be changed through the state initiative process since the trial lawyers’ lobby was so strong that it prevented the legislature from doing the right thing on their own. It was staggering to hear attorneys try to argue that the public would be harmed from having a standing requirement in state courts. But they knew that they would be losing a huge easy cash cow if the law were changed. (As any legal geek knows, standing is a Constitutional requirement for federal court – but it does not necessarily apply to state courts).

That is what few people covering this story fail to appreciate – Judge Roy L. Pearson Jr. isn’t asking $65-million-plus for his lost pair of pants. That would be insane. Instead, he is suing on behalf of everyone who failed to get “same day service” or their “satisfaction guaranteed” at the D.C. dry cleaners. He is suing on behalf of everyone’s lost pants This law allows him to do just that.

So any news outlet (or blog) claiming that this judge is asking $65-million for his pair of pants is misrepresenting the real story here. It isn’t about an out of control plaintiff (although it certainly has that element), it is instead about a broken legal system.

Is he abusing the law? Of course. Should he be criticized for it? Of course. But let’s not let Washington D.C. off the hook here for their failure to institute minimal tort reforms by simply including a standing requirement. It is not enough to blame the plaintiff. Once he goes away, there will be others. The D.C. “consumer protection” law needs to be amended NOW. Nothing radical is needed. Just a requirement for standing and actual provable damages. How controversial could that be?

If D.C. refuses to make the necessary changes, maybe Congress needs to pass a law requiring Article III standing in all state courts. (I know, I know…there are federalism issues here. But if the Supreme Court is going to interpret the Commerce Clause so broadly that it allows a federal ban on medical marijuana grown and consumed in a single state, then surely it is also broad enough to intrude on state courts whose tort decisions affect interstate commerce in a far more direct and dramatic manner.)

But in order to add spice to the story, there is certainly nothing wrong with looking at the plaintiff himself. Which brings us to the second point that most of the media are missing…

2. Judge Roy L. Pearson, Jr. apparently has a prior history of abusing the legal system.

Check out his divorce case. In addition to counting the number of times he had sex with his wife before their separation, the court notes the following:

a. Pearson “worked for the District of Columbia for over twenty years before losing his job.” (This was before he scored his administrative judge gig.)

b. His [ex-]wife is an attorney who used to work for Rolls Royce. During the divorce proceedings, Pearson had asked the court to order his wife to pay spousal support to him. (This request was denied.)

c. Pearson asked for legal sanctions against his wife and her attorney because he alleged that her stated grounds for divorce were “fraudulent and misleading”. The court denied the sanctions.

d. During the divorce litigation, Pearson served his wife with 248 evidentiary requests for admissions. The court found this request to be “excessive on its face” and refused Pearson’s motion to compel a response from his wife.

e. The court then found that Pearson “was substantially responsible for ‘[excessively] driving up’ of the legal costs by ‘threatening both [his] wife and her lawyer with disbarment’ and creating unnecessary litigation.” Because of that, it ordered Pearson to pay his wife $12,000 in legal fees.

Interesting background for a person now suing a dry cleaning store for $65-mil.

But there is another aspect of Pearson’s background that is worth noting – at least in passing. Which brings us to the third point that most of the media are missing.

3. Judge Roy L. Pearson, Jr. is African-American.

Why is this important? Well, I’ll be the first to admit that it might not be. But then again, it just might be important enough to note for the following reasons –

The defendants in the dry cleaning case are Korean immigrants. The mainstream media seems to have no problem noting this fact. Where I live (Southern California), there have been long, well known tensions between certain sectors of the African-American community and the Asian immigrant community – particularly Koreans. (The Rodney King riots in Los Angeles was just one flare point.) I don’t think it is a stretch to speculate that similar tensions might exist between these groups in other parts of the country as well.

Question: Do you really think that Pearson would have brought this same exact lawsuit against middle-class English speaking American owners of a dry cleaning business who may be more knowledgeable about our legal system?

Somehow, I doubt it. I think it is fair to at least speculate that the defendants here may have been targeted (however subtly) because they are struggling Korean immigrants. And if that turns out to be the case, then it may also be important to note Pearson’s own racial and cultural background to determine if Black-Asian racism is at possibly at work here as a subtle undercurrent.

This part is admittedly pure speculation, and it is certainly not the main thrust of the controversy to be sure. But I think there are strong enough speculative elements here to warrant mentioning the race factor in this story – for both the defendants and the plaintiff.

Naturally the mainstream press won’t mention this last point. Not because they are against “speculation” in their coverage, but because they have never been able to be frank and honest with the public when it comes to racial matters in this country. I guess it’s another burden that the blogs will have to carry on their own.

[Final note: The bio page on Pearson suggests that he is African-American based on his membership with the National Council of Black Lawyers has been taken down. Perhaps because of the controversy?]

— Justin Levine

25 Responses to “Notes On The $65-Million Dry Cleaning Suit By D.C. Judge Roy L. Pearson, Jr.”

  1. Do you really think that Pearson would have brought this same exact lawsuit against middle-class English speaking American owners of a dry cleaning business who may be more knowledgeable about our legal system?

    …or if the case wasn’t going to be decided (probably) by an all-black jury?

    LagunaDave (cb0e49)

  2. Justin… Excellent insight about the consumer protection law. I suspect most states have already taken care of the problem with the over-broad consumer protection law, at least those who ever foolishly passed it to begin with. The problem in D.C. can easily be fixed by Congress by exercising its exclusive jurisdiction to legislate over the area, without doing violence to any federalism principles. And if any actual states are foolish enough to allow this to continue, well, it mostly hurts just the residents of that state, so let them do it. As you point out, the sleazy lawyers taking advantage of such laws usually target small, poorer businesses, not large multi-state or multi-national organizations, so they probably have little effect on the prices the rest of us pay.

    PatHMV (7f2300)

  3. The California State Bar (along with the Bar organizations’ of most states) require a “Moral Character Examination” before being admitted to practice law.

    This guy, by his actions in the “pants” case alone, not to mention his divorce proceedings, demonstrates that the DC Bar must not take that requirement very seriously. There is no reason this fool should not have his bar card revoked. At the very least.

    luke (f9482e)

  4. Interesting analysis. Thank You.
    Having the perverse personality that I do, I wonder if a similar suit could be filed against the Washington Post or other “main stream” media outlets for abusing the public with fake scandals and twisted/slanted/biased/abusive news stories?

    It amounts to greenmail but since no standing or damage must be proved…

    Scott (a596c5)

  5. How big are Roy’s pants?

    Clark Baker (35519b)

  6. Hey, I am one of those “others”. See my column today in Human Events (www.humanevents.com, http://www.humaneventsonline.com).

    Jay D. Homnick (efe9f2)

  7. Patterico, you are right on as far as motivation is concerned. These undercurrents are everpresent, especially in DC. This judge is gambling that these owners will be intimidated and not have the stomach or knowledge to counter this. Racism clearly plays a major role here.

    Whether the Korean couple counter-sues or not, keeping quiet and rolling over isn’t so much the tradition any more. Many children of first generation immigrants are fresh out of law school, having received the education that so many Korean dry-clean and grocery store owners work hard to provide their children. I have no doubt their community will, as always, pool resources to help out and keep them in business.

    mrj (75a4c8)

  8. This guy will bankrupt the dry cleaning business, which is probably his intention.

    davod (3392f5)

  9. As I understand it, this guy is an administrative law judge. What is needed is the publication of the names of those who recommended him for that slot, those who seated him, and those who now defended him. We could find out why they thought he was such a good choice, or, beat them up side the head with their silence!

    Beaufort (1f0f07)

  10. Re: #7
    uhm , mrj ,
    Patterico did not write the blog article.

    Justin Levine

    did.

    seePea (38fcb2)

  11. This guy will bankrupt the dry cleaning business, which is probably his intention.

    Hmmm … I bet if all the DC dry-cleaners went on vacation at the same time in, say, May that the lawsuit might get tossed out.

    Kevin Murphy (0b2493)

  12. We need good tort reform just like with the gun makers its time to end this litigation nonsense

    krazy kagu (e70d3d)

  13. Sorry, Justin.

    mrj (75a4c8)

  14. isn’t there a korean mafia they can go to, hire some guy to cap the plaintiff? maybe they would do it pro bono.

    assistant devil's advocate (e4d694)

  15. Get serious, ada. This is Washington, DC. He is part of the street gang that’s the city’s administration. Instead of a welfare check, he gets a job as an administrative law judge. Instead of mugging people on the subway, he gets to sue them in court. If I say anything more, I’ll have to go to rehab.

    nk (db0112)

  16. […] The “judge” has a history of abusing the judicial system. Read it here including servicing his wife with 248 evidentiary requests for admissions in their divorce case. […]

    Independent Sources » Blog Archive » Don’t think we need legal reform? Dry Cleaning “Suit” Should Change Your Mind (dd41d6)

  17. Two items.
    1) Scott (post #4) beat me to the punch, except I usually refer to the media malfeasance as “journalistic malpractice”. We could present a few people whose blood pressure rises when reading stories clearly shown to be false, then extrapolate to the damage done throughout the country to all such people, contributing to heart attacks, strokes, and chronic renal failure. With the proceeds we could start “PPP”- “Patterico’s Pontifications in Print” to compete with USA Today- America’s Paper, minus the distortions (or some such).

    2) How does the concept of “a jury of one’s peers” fit if the defendant is Korean and the jury is all African American? Is it presumed that in selecting jurors anyone with prejudice or resentment against Korean business owners will get thrown out? I am sure this is criminal law “101”, but I never took the course.

    MD in Philly (3d3f72)

  18. I think it is highly inappropriate to bring up race as an issue here. This has nothing to do with race. This is all about IQ, of which Pearson has none.

    Judge Dreaded (5dbda6)

  19. DISBARRED!!! This crooked judge Pearson immediately!!!!

    true (273e95)

  20. Why does everyone who talks about this case assume that ALL African Americans have problems with Asians!? Not only is this RIDICULOUS – it is just plain stupid!

    I am an African American woman currently living in CA (originally from Philadelphia) who was living in L.A. when the King thing occurred.

    During that time – the beef was mostly between the Blacks and Hispanics – NOT THE KOREANS! You have got to be kidding me.

    There is no denying that this guy totally took advantage of the legal system to the point where these unfortunate people had to suffer as they did.

    It is my hope that the DC laws are reviewed to ensure that this never happens again.

    And please – don’t make this a racial issue. I have family members of all walks of life and to suggest that African Americans have problems with Koreans is just plain retarded! Sounds like you should be looking at yourself…

    Diaz (f4f23c)

  21. Oh and by the way – lets not forget that this judge treated HIS OWN WIFE like a criminal. What makes you think that being Korean has anything to do with his stupid acts?

    Comeon now. This guy will pounce on anyone; black, white, asian – WHOEVER!!

    Diaz (f4f23c)

  22. if i knew they will make so much problems.i would pick the cotton my self.

    isaac (57b44e)

  23. Where did Pearson get his law degree?

    Martin D. Hubbell (01834a)

  24. The whole situation is crazy. I can’t believe this is going on.

    Layla (e0c882)

  25. […] How many of you remember Roy Pearson, the (now former) DC judge who sued for $54 million over a pair of pants? […]

    The Jury Talks Back » The pants will not be ignored (e4ab32)


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