Judge Who Lost Pants Loses Another Suit

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It seems that our old friend Roy L. Pearson, Jr., he of the $65 million pants, has recovered sufficiently from losing that case to get on with losing another one. This one was a wrongful-termination lawsuit against the District of Columbia, his former boss (Chief Administrative Law Judge Tyrone Butler), and other alleged miscreants. A federal judge dismissed all of Pearson’s claims on July 23.

As you may recall, Roy Pearson was the ALJ who pursued a legal crusade against his local dry cleaners for allegedly losing a pair of his pants and then refusing to honor their posted “Satisfaction Guaranteed” policy to his full and complete satisfaction. This would not have been newsworthy except that, by his calculation, he was entitled to $65 million in damages. To be fair, he did revise his figures later, and from then on always cited a much more reasonable figure of $54 million.  See “Judge Drops Pants; Suit Still On,” Lowering the Bar (June 6, 2007). His ultimate recovery in the case was easier to calculate: zero.

In the meantime, Pearson’s term in office had expired and he was not reappointed. Lawsuit followed.

While the pants were not the focus of this lawsuit, they do appear in it, much as their ghostly form will continue to haunt Pearson for some time. Pearson alleged that by refusing to appoint him to another term, defendants had violated his rights to free speech, equal protection and due process of law (among other things). He had a long list of demands, including reinstatement and, of course, not less than $1 million in damages per defendant. Again, no, the court ruled.

Pearson’s free-speech claims involved allegations that he was fired for trying to reform the Office of Administrative Hearings, where he worked. Pearson’s initial term began on May 2, 2005, and by June 20 he had already drafted and circulated a 19-page memo full of complaints. (Like I always say, there’s no better way to get settled in a new job than to circulate a memo extensively criticizing what everybody’s been doing.) Within another month, he had taken his complaint to a supervising commission, and a week later, he wrote the mayor. In that letter he further endeared himself to the boss by telling the mayor that Chief Judge Butler had “deeply rooted character, judgment and ethical deficiencies,” “corrupt ethics, demonstrably poor judgment and failed leadership,” had led a “gangsta effort” to intimidate him and engaged in other “astoundingly inappropriate conduct.” Pearson had been employed for about nine weeks at this point.

Remarkably, when Pearson asked to be appointed to a full ten-year term a few months later, Chief Judge Butler said he did not oppose the appointment. (He did suggest Pearson might want to buff up his “teamwork” skills a bit.) On March 8, 2007, Butler confirmed the recommendation, and the next day, Pearson graciously sent a group email to his coworkers encouraging them to “compile a record” that would “make it difficult for CJ Butler to knife [them].”

He also compared his personal struggle to the civil rights movement, which was a nice touch.

The court’s rejection of Pearson’s claims was pretty straightforward, given those facts. Most comical was Pearson’s argument that his First Amendment rights were violated because he had been fired partly for pursuing the pants case, which he insisted was a “public interest lawsuit.” Well, I can vouch for the fact that there was public interest in his lawsuit, but that’s not what he meant. As the court put it, “[t]he mere fact that plaintiff characterizes his status as that of a private attorney general” does not change the fact that he was pursuing “a personal vendetta against a dry cleaners over a pair of pants.” Sadly, the failure of Judge Pearson’s crusade means that the next citizen who suffers from unfair pants deprivation will be forced to walk the same lonely road alone. And with no pants.

Pearson, who has 30 days to appeal, will.