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News media descended upon D.C. Superior Court last week to cover what one German journalist called “a spectacle that everyone in the world is watching.” That spectacle, of course, was the trial involving Judge Roy Pearson Jr., a D.C. administrative law judge who is suing the owners of a dry cleaning business for $54 million over a pair of pants. Though much of the attention has been on Pearson, the two-day bench trial also thrust Judge Judith Bartnoff into the spotlight. A former partner at Patton Boggs, Bartnoff played referee throughout the trial and is expected to render a decision this week. Appointed in 1994 by President Bill Clinton, Bartnoff is known for interrupting lawyers during trial if she thinks they’ve said too much or if they aren’t sticking to the facts or the law. That was evident in Courtroom 415 last week, where Pearson routinely tested the judge’s patience. Bartnoff occasionally took deep breaths and closed her eyes as Pearson represented himself against the owners of Custom Cleaners. Yet when Pearson tried to prove he deserved $500,000 in attorney fees, Bartnoff interrupted him, telling him he was wrong. And at one point, Bartnoff raised her voice, questioning Pearson’s understanding of the law. “You have an obligation to the court to be accurate in the cases that you talk about,” she told him, her posture changing from relaxed to upright. One attorney, who asked not to be named because his cases come before her, says that’s one aspect of Bartnoff that some attorneys dislike. “The judge shouldn’t advertise which way she’s going,” this lawyer says. “She has a hard time [with] that.” D.C. defense lawyer Jensen Barber disagrees with that assessment. “She recognizes people as human beings as well as litigants, and that’s hard to do,” Barber says. “Someone else may have been so dismissive of a case like this. However she decides this, it will be well-reasoned and well-written.”
Osita Iroegbu can be contacted at [email protected].

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