Elmer Smith | UGLY PANTS SUIT

Posted: June 26, 2007

HARD TO PLACE a value on something as near and dear as one's pants. But $54 million seems excessive to me.

I don't know how Roy Pearson came up with that figure as just compensation for the pair of pants he claims were lost by Custom Cleaners in Washington, D.C. To be fair, the pants were marked down from the $67 million Pearson originally sued the cleaners for.

If he filled his pockets with platinum pellets, if the fabric was worth its weight in saffron - if the tailor who sewed them was the same guy who made Joseph's coat of many colors - his pants couldn't be worth $54 million, even allowing for inflation.

I don't want to be too dismissive. Part of what Pearson sought compensation for is emotional trauma. Losing one's pants can be traumatic, especially if you're wearing them at the time to cover some real or perceived shortcoming.

According to published accounts, Pearson became so emotional that he interrupted the proceedings at one point to rush from the courtroom, "tears dripping from his full and reddened eyes." Sounds like a guy who came up a couple hugs short of a happy childhood.

Throw in the fact that he turned down settlement offers of $3,000, $4,600 and finally $12,000, and that he spent 1,400 hours preparing for his two-year fight, and I'd say he's lucky that Judge Judith Bartnoff didn't order a long period of closely supervised bed rest.

Instead, she ruled against him and ordered him to pay court costs for the owners of the cleaners, Soo Chung, Jin Nam Chung and their son, Ki Y Chung. A spokesman for their attorney told me that the costs come to about $5,000.

"That won't cover attorney's fees, which are about $100,000," said Julianne Evans.

"That doesn't even count the cost of defending the appeal Pearson has said he will file," said Evans.

Several prominent D.C. attorneys have started a defense fund for the Chungs. So far they have raised about $30,000.

This is where it ceases to be funny. We know we live in the most litigious nation on earth. We've seen people file suit because they burned their laps with spilled coffee or because a state trooper gave them bad directions. We've seen them collect.

But when a man who knows the law can drag a family through the courts until he all but bankrupts them, there ought to be some way to fully compensate the victims of this kind of punitive suit.

There ought to be a way to punish people who bring frivolous lawsuits, especially when their aim is to force someone out of business or into bankruptcy.

Pearson holds a Juris Doctor degree from Northwestern University Law School. He taught at the Georgetown University Law Center and has been admitted to the D.C. bar and the bar of the U.S. Supreme Court, two of America's toughest. He knows the law.

What I don't know is why a Superior Court judge would hear the case instead of kicking it back to small-claims court where it belonged. Why did the court system indulge this sorehead for two years while the bills steadily ran up?

I wasn't able to reach Judge

Bartnoff for answers to those questions yesterday. But I suspect that if I had reached her, she would have cited a prohibition against judges discussing pending cases.

I know people who have spent tens of thousands of dollars defending against suits that ultimately were found to be utterly without merit. But that ruling is small consolation when you've spent your children's college money in court.

I don't think anyone should be forced to accept pants that aren't his. Our boys have fought and died on foreign soil to preserve such freedoms.

But when a guy refuses $12,000 in compensation for a pair of pants, he ought to be forced to drop his lawsuit, and maybe his pants, too. *

Send e-mail to smithel@phillynews.com or call 215-854-2512. For recent columns: http://go.philly.com/smith

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