Former administrative law judge Roy Pearson Jr. just can't catch a break in his quest to hold someone accountable for losing his job with the District of Columbia.
Pearson, recall, was the judge who filed a multimillion-dollar suit against a dry cleaner over a lost pair of pants. The suit didn't go unnoticed. In 2007, Pearson was denied reappointment to his post as a D.C. administrative law judge. Pearson sued, making a host of claims.
When Pearson’s wrongful termination suit was dismissed by the federal district court in Washington, he turned to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Today, a three-judge panel upheld the dismissal of the suit.
At issue in the suit was Pearson’s contention that he was denied reappointment because of his complaints about the peer review system in place at the D.C. Office of Administrative Hearings. Pearson, a member of the D.C. Bar since 1978, had complained to the D.C. Council that his independence as a judge was “chilled and frustrated” by a secret peer review system.
“The district court correctly concluded Pearson’s testimony before the D.C. Council and private communication with the Council’s staff were not protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States,” D.C. Circuit Judges Douglas Ginsburg, Karen LeCraft Henderson and Merrick Garland said in a two-page judgment today.
The judges pointed to a D.C. Circuit ruling last year in an unrelated case where the court said that a public employee speaks without First Amendment protection when he reports conduct that interferes with his job responsibilities. “Pearson did just that,” the panel judges said today.
Pearson’s suit against his dry cleaner was also not protected speech, the appeals court said. “That suit did not involve a matter of public concern; as the district court stated, it was more properly ‘characterized as a personal vendetta against a dry cleaners over a pair of pants.’”
The D.C. Circuit rejected flat-out Pearson’s claim in briefs that U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle, the trial judge who dismissed the federal suit, should have been recused because of her association with several of the defendants, who include D.C. Superior Court judges who had varying degrees of involvement in the decision to deny Pearson reappointment.
The appeals court said a person who is fully apprised of the circumstances “could not reasonably question that judge’s impartiality.”
This is what Huvelle had to say about Pearson’s pants suit when she dismissed it: “A review of the nature of, and motivation behind, plaintiff’s lawsuit demonstrates that plaintiff was not on a mission to protect the public welfare.”
Pearson didn’t get a chance to argue his side in court. The D.C. Circuit abruptly cancelled oral argument, ruling on the briefs alone. Pearson, who brought the case pro se, was not immediately reached for comment this afternoon.