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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Two Things

Busy, busy, busy morning folks. But if you'd like a little reading material, here is the column I wrote for today's Style section on how to "properly" buy clothes for your dad for Father's Day.

Also, I think we can agree the D.C. pants judge has issues. If you hadn't heard, he broke down crying in the courtroom yesterday when discussing the pants for which he has sued his old dry cleaners for $54 million. Now, don't get me wrong. This guy is a tool. This dry cleaning couple run a mom 'n pop operation. They sound like nice old people. They mean well, etc. Occasionally the misplace or outright lose items, but what dry cleaners doesn't from time to time. Easy for me to say, of course, because they haven't lost my stuff.

So to rehash, Judge Pearson originally sued the cleaners for around $65 million, because they lost the pants to his new suit when he needed them most - he planned to wear that suit to a new job. He distrusted them so after that incident even though they found the pants a week later - that he determined, based on an obscure D.C. law, that he was entitled to millions for the inconvenience, because he would have to find a new dry cleaners, and so on and so forth.

He has since amended his suit for the "lower" amount and changed its focus to alleged fraud on the part of the dry cleaners for posting signs in their windows that said "Satisfaction Guaranteed" and "Same Day Service." Clearly Judge Pearson was not satisfied. Nor did he get his pants back the same day.

However, while I won't defend Judge Pearson for his outrageous lawsuit, one thing bothers me about the dry cleaner's defense. At a news conference yesterday, one of their attorneys, Chris Manning, said this: "This case is very simple. It's about one sign and the plaintiff's outlandish interpretation."

There was a time in this country where "satisfaction guaranteed" was a badge of honor for the small business person who knew his product or service was great. It was a bragging point. Now, according to this attorney, taking that sign and the "same day service" sign literally is an "outlandish interpretation?"

Have our expectations for good service - or at least promised service - gotten so low?

This strikes me as one of those I-didn't-say-that moments. Remember when Charles Barkley wrote an autobiography a few years ago and had some controversial statement in there? When asked about it, he answered "I was misquoted." They were his words! How do you misquote yourself?

Again, Judge Pearson is a jerk for abusing the system and suing these poor folks over pants that they found (plus they offered to give him a few grand for the hassle). But the cleaners can't be let off the hook either for making shallow promises. Ironically, they've since removed the signs.

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  • That judge is making a fool of himself. The judge presiding over this case should have forced the dude to take the settlement offered by the dry cleaners and end this whole thing.

    By Blogger Jay, at 1:00 PM  

  • While I do understand your comment here on the "Satisfaction guaranteed" and "one day service" sometimes, people need to understand too that try as you might to fulfill those promises, equipment fails when you least want/need it to, humans err too and misplace things. The point that irks me in this case is that the couple tried to make good to the judge and he just brushed them aside as if to say "You peons have displeased the king and you will pay, and pay mightily at that!" Who the hell died and made him King anyway? Doesn't he pledge when taking his oath of office to uphold justice? Then, if so, where is he doing that by bringing forth this outrageous, very frivolous lawsuit? Take his suit pants, insert fine copper wire, use them to string him up by both "boys" and hang him out to dry. Just my humble opinion there!

    By Blogger Jeni, at 1:08 PM  

  • Jay, you are correct. He should be forced to take the original settlement offer. Or, even better, he should be forced to pay the dry cleaners' legal costs and call it even.

    Jeni, I hear you. But we don't disagree at all. Like I said throughout this post this guy is a tool, a jerk, etc. He's not a nice person. But - and I'm picturing Michael Douglas in "Falling Down," when I say this - I can understand frustration over bad service and excuses being made for it. I know there's human error. If we all got sued for every mistake we made I'd be broker than I already am. Hanging the judge up by the "boys" is an image I am going to try to forget before I fall asleep tonight. But I share the sentiment. I think I said in my original post on this topic that someone should beat him with a shoe.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 1:35 PM  

  • Ooooo. This judge guy irks me! We are trying to live in a society here!!! What if this sort-of suing was very common. Small (and large) businesses would be closed down. They couldn't make it. This country is built on small businesses and entrepreneurship. We need businesses to be successful so we have a flowing economy and employed citizens. I think there should be laws to protect businesses from frivolous law suits. I think there are probably times when law suits can be justified. This is not one of those times. This is outrageous and its scary to think that this selfish nut sits on a bench and gets to decide what is just!

    By Blogger Tarrie, at 3:06 PM  

  • JB,

    I see you agree with my indictment of the store's failure to abide by its promises to the public. However, I think I may have been seen as supporting the judge in his outrageous suit.

    Let me be clear--I think this guy has a frivolous lawsuit. The suit from which the pants were lost could not have cost more than $5,000.00, no matter how rich the firm where he was supposed to work tried to act. What is not frivolous, however, is the principle behind the suit, which is, there should be a penalty paid for unkept promises, especially when those promises are made to the public.

    "Satisfaction Guaranteed" is not an empty promise and, unfortunately, most vendors and businesses don't see fit to even attempt to make a customer whole unless that customer threatens litigation. Even then, many companies will fight tooth and nail to avoid paying for their mistakes.

    The biggest culprits? Insurance companies. The most annoying--restaurants (including fast food). Whoever is worst doesn't matter--we don't exercise our spending power at all to dissuade bad behavior. In order to get good service in South Florida, it is almost required that one become an asshole. And that defeats the purpose of good service, becuase once you're upset by something, nothing brings back that good feeling you had before the disappoinment.

    So business owners out there--the customer may not always be right, but that doesn't give you the justification to act wrong. It's more than service--it's hospitality--it's "How would I treat this person if they were a guest in my home?"

    By Anonymous Big Daddy, at 3:09 PM  

  • If I recall, the cleaners tried to make the situation right to amend their clients satifaction. What is one to do when there is no reasonable satisfaction?

    As to the sign of the times, we are in a satisfactionless age. There is little pride in workmanship and even less in service oriented industries. It seems if you are not happy getting your money back is the way to get satisfaction, yet it isn't really satisfying is it? I'd prefer not to waste time effort and energy only to have my money returned and no service given.

    By Blogger My Reflecting Pool, at 4:45 PM  

  • First, I am not a lawyer. Next, there is a principle taught in Business Law in Business School called the "Reasonable Man" Rule which in essence says that the Law follows what a reasonable man would do. I agree that promises should be kept as long as possible. I have doubts as to the value and the circumstances of the clothing exceeding $5000. When this thing got into the million dollar range, things got out of hand. I imagine the Judge didn't throw the case out of court because of the dollar amount because he didn't care how much the suit asked for, and we shouldn't either. Not until a Judge rules that the dry cleaner actually owes that kind of money for losing the pants for a week. That would be crazy.

    By Blogger The CEO, at 5:44 PM  

  • "Satisfaction Guaranteed - Or Your Money Back."

    If the judge spent $54 million on drycleaning that pants that were mislaid, then he's entitled to get it back.

    But since it's more likely he spent $20, he should get $20. And a smack across the face for being a royal jerk.

    By Blogger C.L. Jahn, at 7:02 PM  

  • The problem lies with the term "Satisfaction Guaranteed". I'm not a total asshole, so the replacement costs for my pants would've sufficed. But for the total asshole, there may be no satisfaction.

    Shit happens, plain and simple. Things get lost, deadlines get past. Where's the effin compassion?

    I hope the damn judge tells this guy he's not allowed to wear pants ever again.

    By Blogger Lee, at 7:37 PM  

  • The Chungs should put up a new sign. "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone, specially judges."

    By Blogger The Sarcasticynic, at 7:41 PM  

  • I think the judge is a deeply unhappy man who was waiting for an excuse to punish somebody for his own problems.

    He is a playground bully with a particularly unfair advantage because he knows how to use the system to terrorize someone legally.

    It's true that standards have slipped in general, but knowing that, we all need to pick our battles more carefully so that we are not at war with everyone we encounter.

    By Blogger heartinsanfrancisco, at 10:42 PM  

  • why hasn't that damned case been thrown out yet? both sides have taken it too far.

    By Blogger What A Crock, at 11:32 PM  

  • How is "Satisfaction Guaranteed" any different than "Mission Accomplished?"

    Sadly - these poor people made a mistake - we all do.

    It's frivolous lawsuits like this that jam up our court system. Where's Judge Wapner when we need him?

    BTW - GREAT writing on the Father's Day article. One of your best, IMHO.

    By Blogger Tiggerlane, at 1:33 AM  

  • Morning!

    Strong feelings on the judge. And I can't blame anyone. Like I said, I think Judge Pearson is a jerk. And I know folks slip up. I don't believe the dry cleaning couple should be tortured like this. I think the judge should be tortured...figuratively speaking.

    Still, I wonder if we haven't all just gotten accustomed to weak service? And if we have, that's too bad. Honestly, I'd never sue my dry cleaners. I'd just find a new one if they pissed me off. But I can tell you, my dry cleaners has the same signs up in the windows about satisfaction and same day service. And I have never, ever gotten my clothes back on the same day I dropped 'em off, even when a verbal promise, matching the sign, was offered. My clothes always came back nice, clean, and pressed. But never when the cleaners said they'd have 'em back.

    Bottom line, you're all right. It's an abuse by Judge Pearson, and hopefully when his appointment to the bench comes up for review this summer he won't be renewed to the position.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 10:20 AM  

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