Young and Hungry

Law Firm Takes the Stand to Complain About Burger Fumes

Attorneys representing Steptoe and Johnson, the international law firm seeking relief from rampant burger fumes at Rogue States, called four witnesses to the stand in D.C. Superior Court Judge John M. Mott's courtroom this morning, laying out the headaches, the nausea, and the sheer annoyance of trying to work amid the smell.

"When the odor was really bad, like overwhelmingly bad," testified Steven Davidson, a Steptoe partner in the commercial litigation group, "it will drive you out of your office."

Davidson said that some days are worse than others when you're trying to get legal work done while situated so close to a burger joint and its juicy fumes. He complained of headaches and a general annoyance. The "accumulation is such," Davidson testified, "that you'd want to get some fresh air."

Rogue States is on trial in Mott's courtroom after Steptoe & Johnson, located at 1330 Connecticut Ave. NW, sued its next door neighbor, Rogue States, over grill fumes that are vented from the Dupont burger joint and apparently enter the law firm via intake vents. Rogue owner Raynold Mendizabal, wearing a T-shirt embossed with his burger joint's name and logo, witnessed the morning proceedings, along with his mother Carelia Betancourt and son, Liam Mendizabal Betancourt.

They listened as Steptoe employee Leny Carrascotestified that things have not changed that much at the law firm since Rogue States installed a scrubbing system to keep his vents clean of grease and build-up. "The smell has not abated," Carrasco said. "The smoke is not as bad but the burger smell is still there."

The April installation date is one of the flashpoints of the trial. Rogue's attorney Gary Adler argued during his opening statement that his client has spent tens of thousands of dollars to appease Steptoe, not only installing the scrubber but also upgrading the maintenance package to the tune of $50,000-plus. The scrubber, Adler noted, "is doing exactly what it's supposed to...We believe we have solved this problem at great expense."

Steptoe partner Thomas M. Barba thought so, too. But, Barba testified, "the smells seemed to come back with greater frequency."

Adler's approach this morning was to point out the ham-fisted approach that Steptoe has taken to "solving" the problem. The firm, Adler noted, managed to get the D.C. Department of Health, the D.C. Fire Department, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, and even the Environmental Protection Agency to pay visits to the small burger joint. Adler repeatedly pointed out a campaign within Steptoe to appoint people on each floor of the law firm to report smell complaints to a central person; Adler seemed to be pointing out a coordinated effort to plot against the burger joint, possibly to the point of forcing it out of business.

And what harm has Rogue States done?, Adler and fellow attorney Sarah C. Reimers, kept asking witnesses.  The burger joint has done almost everything within its power, to solve this issue. Nothing but venting the exhaust to the roof will appease the plaintiffs, but Rogue's landlord, TRT, which is also a defendant, has so far refused that option.

As a result of headaches and general annoyance, the law firm seems willing to kill a business that employs nearly 30 and has been a good neighbor in Dupont. Despite all this, "Here they are in the fight for their lives with heavyweight opponents," Adler said.

  • SG

    Lawyers are such rodents. Law firms are the nesting Queen.

  • lawyer

    I wonder if Rogue States can discredit the witnesses if they find out they're militant vegetarians?

  • Lawyer got it backwards

    Vegetarians would have a stronger suit. Look, they don't have a right to create a nuisance or harass their neighbors. Rogue States failed to do its homework and isn't able to solve the problem. Dupont will survive with only 35 burger places. Maybe some of them will have better veggie options.

  • anonymous

    It would survive without 403 law firms too. Perhaps the lawyers are the ones providing the smell. Seriously, did the law firm make any attempt to filter their air? Those windows are pretty sealed up, so it must be in the ventilation system. What about the over rich guys spending some money to solve their problem?

  • Lawyer got it backwards

    Sure, anonymous, and if a new firm moved into DC and started harassing a local restaurant, I think people would be pissed too. Rogue States failed to do even the most basic of investigation before opening, ignoring how its operation would impact others. If they can't find a way to fix it, they should shut down. This isn't rocket science.

  • Coase

    Well, whichever one is more profitable should stay.

  • Coase

    And, you know, pay the difference.

  • Rabin

    No, whoever introduced the conflicting use should pay. (But, I admit, if the burger joint's more profitable, the should get to stay.)

  • Bill

    I don't know. If the harm from someone's activity is more than the benefit of that activity, they should probably be ordered to stop. Regardless of whether it's profitable. I mean, isn't that, like, basic fairness?

  • Bob

    Bill nailed it. And for me it's prettay, prettay easy to decide who benefits more people between lawyers and a local restaurant.

  • Pingback: Burger Trial Heats Up

  • NovaNicole

    Late breaking news: Roquefort Cheese is now available on your burgers, and you can get a side of Durian.

  • Ilikeburgers

    I work at Steptoe and frankly, the burger smell is the most pleasant thing about working at that hell hole. This is just typical Steptoe douchebaggery. I guess things are a bit slow, because incredibly, the firm's partners asked us to wander around the halls to see if we could smell burgers.

  • Bill

    Don't thank me, thank the restatement.

  • The RS

    Bill's oversimplifying again. Just, like, balance the extent and character of the harm to the plaintiff, the social value of the plaintiff's use, the suitability of the plaintiff's use to the particular location, and the burden on the plaintiff of avoiding the harm, against the social value of the defendants activity, the suitability of the defendants use to the particular location, and the burden on the defendant of preventing the harm.

    I'm sorry you have a hard time quantifying these things.