This Judge Parted with His Pants... And Lost His Shirt
Around the turn of the century, a news report had carried a bizarre story. An American judge gave his trousers (pants) to a Chinese laundry for alteration. Cost $10.50. He then experienced what is a common occurrence; clothes lost at the laundry. Happens to everybody.
In India, the usual practice is to compensate by paying half the cost of the missing garment. Judge Pearson was not to be so easily placated. He must have served in the navy, for he thought his pants were made of gold. He sued Ms Chung, the laundress, for $54 million. Nearly Rs362 crore, in today’s money.
The story was lost in memory when suddenly it hit the news. While no one in his right mind would institute such a suit, for half a suit, the dishonourable judge had argued with typical lawyerly ingenuity. There was a sign, he said, outside the laundry that stated, ‘SATISFACTION GUARANTEED’. And that, according to his judicial prudence, meant ‘complete satisfaction’. He quoted other signage, too.
To rub the salt in, Judge Pearson came up with some voodoo mathematics. He added, multiplied and exponentially increased the figure for damages. He included attorney’s fees for a case he was pursuing himself. Ms Chung, the Chinese laundress, countered with, “the ‘SATISFACTION GUARANTEED’ sign has greeted each arriving customer, (that) they actually intended only to operate in accordance with prevailing industry standards—and prevailing industry standards do not unconditionally (or even conditionally) include as a part of the purchase price a guarantee that the customer will be satisfied with all aspects of his or her transaction with the cleaners.” Battle had been joined.
Then, one day, Ms Chung claimed that “they have located the Plaintiff’s pants and offered them to Plaintiff,” and filed a $4,600 offer of judgement. ‘Chickenfeed’ said Judge Pearson. And on he went, until the vicious nature of the ‘Pant Suit’ inevitably led to disciplinary action against Judge Pearson. He lost his job and was put in the dock.
You be the judge.
The committee decided, as any reasonable man would. It first admonished Judge Pearson, “… in the Court’s view, has been delayed unnecessarily by Pearson’s disproportionate approach” and that “(Pearson) is acting in bad faith and with an intent to delay the proceedings.” Judge Pearson’s verbal gymnastics and weirdo interpretations had left a bitter taste in every mouth.
It further observed, “We note, however, that (Pearson) was so unwavering in his obstinacy that he recklessly deprived himself of a settlement of at least $12,000”. Next, “… in the Committee’s view, (Pearson’s) litigation tactics went beyond aggressiveness and crossed the boundary into abusiveness,” and, “(I)n addition, at some points (Pearson’s) actions reflected a level of personal animus against the Chungs.” As we have said often, the ‘teach-him-a-lesson’ lawsuit will end disastrously.
Fortunately for Judge Pearson, there was no indication of dishonesty, eliminating the chances of severe punishment. He wound up with a slap-on-the wrist 30-day sanction.
What do we learn from this? That courts are not amphitheatres nor are advocates-paid gladiators. That lawyers must adhere to what others say about approaching courts. There need to be meritorious claims and contentions. “A lawyer shall not bring or defend a proceeding, or assert or controvert an issue therein, unless there is a basis in law and fact for doing so that is not frivolous, which includes a good faith argument…’
To give the devil his due, Judge Pearson had a good track-record but, at that point, was going through a marriage break-up. He needed $12, 000/- to pay his ex-wife’s attorney!
And the Chungs have removed the signs.