D.C. Superior Court yesterday took on the $54 million question: Whose pants are these?
An administrative law judge became teary and choked with emotion as he told the court how the family-owned Custom Cleaners on Bladensburg Road Northeast lost his trousers in May 2005, then tried to cover up the error by offering him a bogus pair.
It was "a 'Twilight Zone' experience," testified Roy Pearson, who is suing Custom Cleaners owners Jin Nam, Ki and Soo Chung and seeking $54 million for his lost pants.
Mr. Pearson, who is acting as his own attorney, called himself as a witness. He will be cross-examined today by defense attorney Chris Manning.
"[The Chungs] hope tomorrow all this will be behind them," Mr. Manning said at a press conference after yesterday's proceedings. "This case really lacks all merit. [Mr. Pearson] should have just used the free-market system and gone down the street to another dry cleaner."
Mr. Pearson originally sought to sue the South Korean immigrants for $65 million under a strict interpretation of the District's consumer protection law. The law levies a daily fine of $1,500 per violation.
Since May 2005, when his pants disappeared, Mr. Pearson cited 12 violations against each of the three defendants, then did the math. He isn't seeking damages anymore and says the Chungs committed fraud by advertising "same-day service" and "satisfaction guaranteed."
Yesterday, Mr. Pearson argued that he dropped off blue Saks Fifth Avenue suit pants with burgundy pinstripes at Custom Cleaners for a $10.50 alteration and that the gray, cuffed pants they tried to return to him were not his.
Mr. Pearson said he does not own a single pair of pants with cuffs.
Mr. Manning said Mr. Pearson "is absolutely mistaken" about the blue pants and that the gray pants belong to him.
They match his inseam measurements and have a tag that matches his receipt.
Mr. Pearson choked with emotion while giving his testimony yesterday and had to request a break to regain his composure.
"We all know who has suffered in this case, [the Chungs]," said Mr. Manning, responding at the press conference to Mr. Pearson's breakdown.
The courtroom was packed with Chung family supporters, many of whom wore pins that mocked a "$65 million 'pantsuit,' " provided by the American Tort Reform Association.
"As one who works professionally against frivolous lawsuits and as a District of Columbia taxpayer, I am outraged that this has gotten this far," said Darren McKinney, a spokesman for the American Tort Reform Association. "[Mr. Pearson] should know better. ... He has been perverting and manipulating the D.C. consumer protection law for two years."