May it Please the Court:
While the Stella Awards are no longer given (because my book covered all I needed to say on the subject), readers have asked, of all the “winners” over the six years the awards were given, which one is the overall “Stella”-worthy winner? Well, let’s see….
The Overall True Stella Awards Winner
by Randy Cassingham
Updated 5 June 2019
The runners-up are presented in order: from the least-Stella-worthy (#6) to the most:
- The winner of the 2004 True Stella Award: Mary Ubaudi of Madison County, Ill. Ubaudi was a passenger in a car that got into a wreck. She put most of the blame on the deepest pocket available: Mazda Motors, who made the car she was riding in. Ubaudi demands “in excess of $150,000” from the automaker, claiming it “failed to provide instructions regarding the safe and proper use of a seatbelt.” One hopes Mazda’s attorneys make her swear in court that she has never before worn a seatbelt, has never flown on an airliner, and that she’s too stupid to figure out how to fasten a seatbelt.
- The winner of the 2005 True Stella Award: Christopher Roller of Burnsville, Minn. Roller is mystified by professional magicians, so he sued David Blaine and David Copperfield to demand they reveal their secrets to him — or else pay him 10 percent of their lifelong earnings, which he figures amounts to $50 million for Copperfield and $2 million for Blaine. The basis for his suit: Roller claims that the magicians defy the laws of physics, and thus must be using “godly powers” — and since Roller is god (according to him), they’re “somehow” stealing that power from him.
- The winner of the 2007 True Stella Award: Roy L. Pearson Jr. The 57-year-old Administrative Law Judge from Washington DC claims that a dry cleaner lost a pair of his pants, so he sued the mom-and-pop business for $65,462,500. That’s right: more than $65 million for one pair of pants. Representing himself, Judge Pearson cried in court over the loss of his pants, whining that there certainly isn’t a more compelling case in the District archives. But the Superior Court judge wasn’t moved: he called the case “vexatious litigation,” scolded Judge Pearson for his “bad faith,” and awarded damages to the dry cleaners. But Pearson didn’t take no for an answer: he’s appealing the decision. And he has plenty of time on his hands, since he was dismissed from his job. Last I heard, Pearson’s appeal is still pending [as of the time the Award was given; see below].
- The winner of the 2002 True Stella Awards: Sisters Janice Bird, Dayle Bird Edgmon and Kim Bird Moran sued their mother’s doctors and a hospital after Janice accompanied her mother, Nita Bird, to a minor medical procedure. When something went wrong, Janice and Dayle witnessed doctors rushing their mother to emergency surgery. Rather than malpractice, their legal fight centered on the “negligent infliction of emotional distress” — not for causing distress to their mother, but for causing distress to them for having to see the doctors rushing to help their mother. The case was fought all the way to the California Supreme Court, which finally ruled against the women. Which is a good thing, since if they had prevailed doctors and hospitals would have had no choice but to keep you from being anywhere near your family members during medical procedures just in case something goes wrong. In their greed, the Bird sisters risked everyone’s right to have family members with them in emergencies.
- The winner of the 2003 True Stella Awards: The City of Madera, Calif. Madera police officer Marcy Noriega had the suspect from a minor disturbance handcuffed in the back of her patrol car. When the suspect started to kick at the car’s windows, Officer Noriega decided to subdue him with her Taser. Incredibly, instead of pulling her stun gun from her belt, she pulled her service sidearm and shot the man in the chest, killing him instantly. The city, however, says the killing is not the officer’s fault; it argues that “any reasonable police officer” could “mistakenly draw and fire a handgun instead of the Taser device” and has filed suit against Taser, arguing the company should pay for any award from the wrongful death lawsuit the man’s family has filed. What a slur against every professionally trained police officer who knows the difference between a real gun and a stun gun! And what a cowardly attempt to escape responsibility for the actions of its own under-trained officer.
- And the winner of the Overall True Stella Award, from 2006: Allen Ray Heckard. Even though Heckard is 3 inches shorter, 25 pounds lighter, and 8 years older than former basketball star Michael Jordan, the Portland, Oregon, man says he looks a lot like Jordan, and is often confused for him — and thus he deserves $52 million “for defamation and permanent injury” — plus $364 million in “punitive damage for emotional pain and suffering,” plus the same amount from Nike co-founder Phil Knight, for a grand total of $832 million. He dropped the suit after Nike’s lawyers chatted with him, where they presumably explained how they’d counter-sue if he pressed on.
Why? And What Happened?
#1: Heckard “wins” because he’s the epitome of what most people feel the Stella Awards are all about: someone who had no valid claim whatever who thought his lot in life (Awwww, he looked a bit like a well-respected sports star!) was worthy of huge (nearly a billion bucks!) damages. The case’s end is already documented.
#2: The City of Madera is the runner up for its craven attempt to pin its poor police training on an equipment manufacturer …of a product that was not even used. The court threw the case out in Summary Judgment — and the city appealed! The U.S. Court of Appeals (Ninth Circuit) slapped the appeal down, too.
It came out in that suit that Ofc. Noriega had made a similar mistake prior to this incident — when she pulled her Taser when she meant to pull her Glock pistol! It took years for the lawsuit filed by the family of Everado Torres, 24, to wend its way through the courts: the incident happened October 27, 2002; Madera sued Taser in late 2003, and the Appeals Court finally tossed the case out in 2008. Madera eventually settled rather than go to trial — and paid the Torres family $775,000 in late 2013, almost 11 years after the incident.
#3: This case’s end is already documented.
#4: The “pants judge” is next. He was chosen for his over-the-top reaction, which didn’t abate even after being repeatedly slapped down.
Shortly after his case was tossed, a panel recommended that Judge Pearson not be given a full 10-year term as an administrative law judge after his initial two-year term expired in mid-2007, in part because his lawsuit demonstrated a lack of “judicial temperament.” So much for his $100,512 salary. And sure enough, Pearson then sued the city of Washington D.C. for wrongful dismissal, asking for $1 million. That suit was also tossed — after more than a year of back and forth, and he appealed that decision, too!
Even with him essentially being fired, Pearson kept going: when his appeal was dismissed, he asked that the case be heard en banc — that is, that the full 9-judge Appeals Court bench hear the case, rather that “just” three judges, which is how cases are normally heard. That motion was denied. He then had 90 days to file a petition for certiorari (a court process to seek judicial review of a decision of a lower court), but he did not file it within that deadline, so the case ended.
What of the dry cleaner? It closed: Soo Chung, Jin Nam Chung, and Ki Y. Chung, the owners of Custom Cleaners in Washington D.C., announced in September 2007 that due to loss of revenue and emotional strain from the lawsuit, they closed the store, and concentrated their efforts on a second store they owned.
The incident and lawsuit served as a basis for “Bottomless,” an 18th-season episode of Law & Order, which aired originally on January 16, 2008.
#5: Christopher Roller tried to back up his lawsuit by attempting to patent his “powers”: the “exclusive right to the ethical use and financial gain in the use of godly powers on planet Earth.” The patent was denied, and the case was dismissed “with prejudice” — meaning he cannot amend and re-file the complaint.
#6: I did not find the formal conclusion of this case, but did find that Mary Ubaudi died in February 2016 at 57, meaning that she was around 45 when she claimed she needed instructions in how to fasten a seat belt. Still, she comes in 6th in the Overall awards since she “only” asked for $150,000….
StellaAwards.com, In Pro Per
Note: The capsule summaries above are just that — very brief summaries of significantly longer case writeups included in my book.
Again, you can no longer subscribe to the True Stella Awards. But you can use the form below to subscribe to my This is True weekly newsletter: