Patterico's Pontifications

6/25/2007

Shocker: Judge Loses Pants Suit

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 6:45 am

In the most predictable ruling from any court in recent memory, the judge who brought the $54 million pants suit lost. The judge awarded costs to the dry cleaner — but under our system, could not award attorney’s fees.

UPDATE: Perhaps I spoke too soon. The general “American Rule” is against the awarding of attorney’s fees, but this report in the Washington Post states:

A motion to recover the Chungs’ tens of thousands of dollars in attorney fees will be considered later.

Perhaps there is a local rule that allows attorney’s fees to be awarded in specified circumstances. One can only hope.

Thanks to Beldar.

49 Responses to “Shocker: Judge Loses Pants Suit”

  1. And I supppose you approve of this?

    AF (4a3fa6)

  2. o-O

    Considering he’s been mocking the judge who brought the suit, I’d guess that yes, he does support the decision…

    Though I would have loved to have seen the judge have to pay more. Maybe they can sue him for the durress this whole thing put them under…

    Scott Jacobs (90eabe)

  3. Loses his pants suit, indeed. Ho ho ho.

    Good thing the case didn’t end in a tie.

    Al Maviva (89d0b6)

  4. Good thing the case didn’t end in a tie.

    They both could have lost their shirts!

    Pablo (99243e)

  5. He lost his wife who took his dough,
    His cars and fancy houses;
    And when he thought things couldn’t get worse,
    He even lost his trousers.

    nk (0ebe4a)

  6. Good. Out of curiosity, has anyone looked to see who’s currently cleaning his suits?

    htom (412a17)

  7. He deserved to take it in the shorts.

    Mike Myers (2e43f5)

  8. ABC video shows Barry

    ABC ran a video of Marion Barry instead of the plaintiff. Ooops.

    TomHynes (aab663)

  9. The abc news just reported that he has been ordered to pay attorney fees, the amount to be determined later.

    sam (dfd7fe)

  10. Hopefully the amount will be ‘all of it’.

    David N. Scott (71e316)

  11. ABC may have misconstrued costs to include fees.

    Dustin (ce8f7d)

  12. Of course, despite the rational outcome, this case will forever be an cited by tort reformers as example of our how our court system is being exploited by lying, greedy plaintiffs who aren’t really injured, and how we need to have statutes capping damages.

    Phil (427875)

  13. I hope the plaintiff gets taken to the cleaners…

    Tom (919989)

  14. The judge lost the pants suit? You’re pulling my leg!

    DubiousD (fca587)

  15. He really should’ve gotten a dressing down. After all, what he did went far beyond skirting the law. I mean, as a judge himself you’d think he’d have a vested interest in moderating this sort of thing.

    Alan Kellogg (512c35)

  16. They should have led the judge away in cuffs.

    DubiousD (fca587)

  17. So what did the judge end up with? Zip!

    DubiousD (fca587)

  18. They should’ve told him to put a button on it.

    DubiousD (fca587)

  19. How’d this case ever thread its way through the court system?

    DubiousD (fca587)

  20. If I’d been the presiding judge in this case, I’d have belted him.

    DubiousD (fca587)

  21. In future, we need to find a way to close these legal loopholes.

    DubiousD (fca587)

  22. What I have not heard or seen anywhere is any analysis as to whether this guy demonstrates the kind of temperament to continue as an administrative law judge. He seems irrational, vindictive, and, frankly, unhinged. Or maybe he’s just incredibly greedy and opportunistic. In any case, it seems to me that this farce of a lawsuit displays such a lack of judgment and integrity as to make his continued public service ridiculous.

    Of course, this is D.C., where qualifications for office have long since disappeared from the discussion.

    VG

    Voiceguy (7655c0)

  23. Haven’t seen much about this case in the other blogs. I guess interested has started to slack off.

    DubiousD (fca587)

  24. I guess this serves the plaintiff right for getting too khaki.

    DubiousD (fca587)

  25. Plain fact of the matter is, the judge should’ve dropped his suit.

    DubiousD (fca587)

  26. I’m tempted to say the judge got hung out to dry, only I abhor verbal puns.

    DubiousD (fca587)

  27. It just goes to show that the plaintiff can’t pretend to be better than all the rest of us. He still has to – wait for it – put on his pants one leg at a time, even if he is crazy enough to claim they are worth $54 million. I still wonder where Je$$e was in all this.

    daleyrocks (906622)

  28. Phil, there was little “rational” about the outcome of the case, since it should never have been allowed to continue in the first place.

    Robin Roberts (6c18fd)

  29. Stop it, DubiousD, I’m in stitches.

    Doc Rampage (47be8d)

  30. Phil, it’s hardly rational for a hard-working small business-owner like the dry cleaners here to be forced to spend a significant sum of money in legal fees to defend themselves from a clearly frivolous claim, with no ability to recover those attorneys fees from the idiot who brought the suit to begin with. Had this not generated such a storm of negative publicity for this “judge,” he would have been out very little by losing. As it is, he’s only out some court costs and the shame of it all. Of course, if he really was capable of feeling shame, he wouldn’t have brought the suit to begin with.

    PatHMV (7f2300)

  31. “…he wouldn’t have brought the suit to begin with.”

    To the dry cleaners, that is.

    Hopefully, problems with such suits in the future will entail a bit less iron-y.

    Warren Bonesteel (f4120d)

  32. I’m starting to get a little bit steamed from all these puns…

    Scott Jacobs (90eabe)

  33. He will have to reimburse the owners of the dry cleaners for their expenses. It was a ridiculous law suit and he knew that prior to taking them to court.

    Lynn (1f0f07)

  34. It was a ridiculous lawsuit and considering the backlog of cases in our courts we all keep hearing about couldn’t another plaintiff with a serious case have had their day in court as opposed to wasting precious time with a frivilous attention whore desperate for his 15 minutes?

    Dana (36df1e)

  35. I’m starting to get a little bit steamed from all these puns…

    Comment by Scott Jacobs — 6/25/2007 @ 12:58 pm

    Why so starchy?

    I hope someone interviews the judge. On the surface he sems so normal, but I bet once he opens his mouth, bats fly out.

    Tom (ad8087)

  36. Can anyone here` explain why this even got on the court docket to be heard in the first place? I always thought there was some ability to throw out obviously “frivolous” litigation to avoid wasting tax payers’ money. This should have been rejected and sent to small claims court (or Judge Judy) IMO.

    elizabeth (d52f8b)

  37. I hate it when my suit falls apart at the seams.

    Perfect Sense (b6ec8c)

  38. Scott,

    I’m starting to get a little bit steamed from all these puns…

    Both little bits if you’re not careful; you gotta take your pants off before you press ’em. Sue for the missing warning label!

    As for the judge, I hope he doesn’t press his suit any further.

    /it’s hard to stop, isn’t it?

    ras (adf382)

  39. The reimbursement is for $5000 in filing fees. There is a motion to reimburse for attorney fees, which seems to hinge on whether or not the suit (the legal suit, not the truncated apparel) is ruled frivolous.

    Given the treatment Koreans have gotten in places like DC and LA, one might almost suspect race-based bullying. Banish the thought, though. Someday we will reform torts (BIG TIME) but Politically Correct Blindness is incurable.

    Glen Wishard (b1987d)

  40. Elizabeth,

    There are legal limits on a court’s ability to dismiss lawsuits. Generally dismissal occurs where there are jurisdictional problems (the court does not have authority to hear the matter) or the claim on its face is not factually or legally actionable.

    In general, a person can sue in court for deceptive services or loss of goods so the plaintiff in this case stated a claim that could be heard. What was offensive here was the amount of damages claimed by plaintiff and, to a lesser extent, plaintiff’s unwillingness to accept defendant’s efforts to remedy the situation.

    As a legal system, we have two choices: Forbid people to sue over seemingly trivial matters or punish them if they pursue frivolous claims. Our system generally opts to give people their day in court rather than prevent them from getting there.

    DRJ (2d5e62)

  41. This lawsuit really chaps my hide. Perhaps the next time, they will sock it to him before it comes to trial.

    kaf (652c32)

  42. he should have pocketed the settlement offer. he had it made as a white collar black guy in d.c., why’d he have to go do something stupid? put him in a straightjacket!

    assistant devil's advocate (8890e1)

  43. Glen (#39) and others: The Associated Press report (as reproduced in WaPo) says District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Judith Bartnoff “ordered [plaintiff Roy L.] Pearson to pay clerical court costs of about $1,000 to defendants Soo Chung, Jin Nam Chung and Ki Y. Chung. A motion to recover the Chungs’ tens of thousands of dollars in attorney fees will be considered later.”

    It’s near-universal for the winning side in American civil litigation to be awarded “court costs,” but those typically (by statute) don’t include anything more than filling and some other administrative fees and, sometimes, the cost of the “original” (i.e., the copy filed with the court) for deposition transcripts. The $1000 estimate in the AP story is typical, although in cases with lots of depositions, that can sometimes run into several thousands of dollars. But by themselves, court costs are never more than a fraction of the actual out-of-pocket expenses and attorneys’ fees incurred by the winning side.

    DRJ’s absolutely right that courts are generally very reluctant to punish people for simply bringing losing lawsuits, and the traditional “American Rule” is that the losing plaintiff doesn’t have to pay the winning defendant’s legal fees. (Compare the English Rule, which opponents characterize as having the practical (and, some say, intended) effect of discouraging legitimate litigation that’s nevertheless at or near the margin.)

    However, quite a few American jurisdictions have made it easier to shift fees onto unsuccessful plaintiffs in recent years as part of various “tort reform” legislative programs. I’m guessing that the cleaners’ motion is premised on something like that, and I think the odds are pretty good that they’ll win on it. In fact, I think it’s entirely likely that the reason Judge Bartnoff gave Pearson so much rope — a full trial on the merits in which he was demonstrably given every reasonable opportunity (and then some) to prove up his claims if he could — was to absolutely ensure that there’s an ample record for an appellate court to sustain her about-to-be-exercised discretion in slapping him with a high five-figure attorneys’ fee sanction. In other words, if she’d thrown the case out sooner, the odds would have been much, much higher that either she couldn’t have awarded the dry cleaners their attorneys’ fees, or that such an award might have been reversed or cut back on appeal (with an appeal from Pearson being almost assured in any event).

    Whether the dry cleaners will ever collect from the crackpot plaintiff is another story. It might depend on whether, under local law in the District of Columbia, they can garnish his wages. I do wish them luck, though.

    Beldar (a498cf)

  44. Beldar,

    Your comments are always informative and right on the money. It’s like going to law school again … but a lot more fun and cheaper, too!

    DRJ (2d5e62)

  45. Re-reading my last comment:

    I know it seems absolutely perverse that the trial judge’s award of their attorneys’ fees to the dry cleaners becomes easier to sustain if the case has played out fully (which necessarily means that the amount of the fees will have grown larger). But that’s the way it really is.

    Once the case has fully played out, that’s when judges are best able to say, “This case was frivolous and ought never have been brought, or if it was okay to bring, it ought never have been handled in the way this plaintiff handled this one.” Earlier in the case, before she had, for example, seen and heard Pearson on the witness stand (and the other evidence), the trial judge would have been much more subject to a successful appellate challenge on the grounds that she was, in effect, pre-judging the lack of merit in the case.

    Now, by contrast, the appellate court is in a position to say: “The trial judge had the opportunity to assess Pearson’s credibility and motives in person throughout the pretrial proceedings and the full trial on the merits, and we are not inclined to second-guess her judgment and will instead defer to her judgment.”

    Beldar (a498cf)

  46. This has been an amazing discussion, even by Patterico standards. Sick, yet clever word play juxtaposed with high-end legal insight. I imagine now that ABC inadvertently inserted Marion Barry into the story Judge Pearson will think it’s a “sign” he should run for mayor of D.C.

    elizabeth (d52f8b)

  47. Does the judge have the power to sanction the plaintiff as a lawyer, since he acted as his own counsel? Or refer the matter to the Bar? One would think any attorney bringing a suit like this would be risking sanction. Possibly one reason why the judge was his own client (the other being obvious).

    Kevin Murphy (0b2493)

  48. Kevin (#47): I don’t know the details of how the District of Columbia appoints (or re-appoints) its administrative judges, but the new WaPo article (as opposed to the AP report the WaPo website previously carried) suggests that “Pearson could have a hard time keeping his $96,000-a-year job if Bartnoff finds him at fault for his pursuit of the case.” Elsewhere I’ve read that Pearson was unemployed for two years before getting the administrative law judge appointment. (Indeed, that’s among the findings of fact contained in Judge Bartnoff’s opinion, which is very clever and revealing indeed.) If I were representing the defendant dry cleaners, my concern would be that whatever sanction the trial judge might order, Pearson would end up trying to use the bankruptcy courts to discharge it. (I don’t know whether such sanctions might be non-dischargeable, analogously to fraud, in bankruptcy proceedings, but that’s definitely something I would look into were I their counsel.)

    I don’t know the answer to your very good question about whether Pearson can be sanctioned both as a principal (i.e., client, i.e., litigant) and as a lawyer. My guess is that he could be. In Texas, where I practice, the relevant precedent from the Texas Supreme Court cautions trial judges who are considering the imposition of sanctions to distinguish between offenses that can be attributed to both clients and their counsel, offenses that are only attributable to the client, and offenses that are only attributable to the lawyer. Sometimes the lawyer’s offense can properly be attributed to the client, and sometimes not. Here, that sort of distinction would seem to collapse; arguably, Pearson’s law license makes him more culpable than the ordinary client. I just don’t know enough about the District of Columbia’s statutes, rules, and precedents to comment further.

    Prof. Bainbridge linked the remarkable 23-page written opinion from Judge Bartnoff. Among other things, it clarifies (at page 3, footnote 3) that the defendant dry cleaners’ motion for an award of their attorneys’ fees as a sanction is indeed based on a local rule, “Rule 11 of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure,” and that the motion actually hasn’t yet been filed, but has been promised. That delay may be problematic if, as the footnote suggests, the rule requires that the purportedly abusive litigant (here, Pearson) have been given formal notice and a certain number of days’ opportunity to withdraw his offending pleadings.

    The subtext of Judge Bartnoff’s opinion practically screams to me that she is prepared to enter substantial sanctions against Pearson, but that she is also being extremely careful to do so in a way that will be upheld when Pearson appeals. That’s excellent news for the defendant dry cleaners, and, indirectly, for the Rule of Law and American Justice System.

    Beldar (a498cf)

  49. As you are undoubtedly aware, a $54 million lawsuit was recently brought in DC District Court against a small neighborhood drycleaners over a pair of alleged lost trousers. While the Court found resoundingly in favor of the business owners, Jin and Soo Chung, their ordeal is not yet over—they have drained their saving accounts contesting this frivolous lawsuit, and they have racked up over $100,000 in legal expenses.

    In order to help the Chungs defray their legal bills, ILR and the American Tort Reform Association are co-hosting a fundraiser on Tuesday evening, July 24 at 6 p.m. at the US Chamber Building in Washington, DC. Unfortunately, businesses large and small across America must deal every day with similar extortionist tactics from some plaintiffs’ lawyers. The collective outcome is not justice, but lost jobs, ruined businesses and billions of dollars in lost economic opportunity. Additional details, sponsorship opportunities and easy online registration are available at http://www.chungfundraiser.com.

    uschamber (25f8c8)


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