Photo and caption from the St. Petersburg Times. We adore the earnestness with which they’re reporting this story.
We’re sorry to be arriving late to the party on this one. So if you’re already familiar with this story, then just skip this post. But if not, read on — it’s well worth your time.
From the St. Petersburg Times (via How Appealing):
Ralph Paul’s story began on March 31 when he and his girlfriend ate at Angellino’s Italian Restaurant in Palm Harbor. Paul ordered the shrimp and scallop verdura.
Since the item wasn’t listed as a pasta dish even though the menu said it came with pasta Paul believed the majority of the dish would be seafood. He said he was surprised to see only five shrimp and five scallops, all of which were “bite-size.”
Paul ate the shrimp and scallops, then poked around the dish for more seafood and, after finding none, asked the server to take the dish back and remove it from his bill.
A manager and owner told Paul he had to pay the entire bill. Paul and his girlfriend believed both were hostile toward them. Paul offered – five times, he said – to pay for some of the $15.99 meal, but the manager and owner demanded full payment.
Paul said he believed the situation was getting heated, so he left a few dollars on the table for a tip, walked briskly out of the restaurant, got into his silver BMW convertible and left. Someone at the restaurant got his tag number and called sheriff’s deputies.
The $46 bill Paul didn’t pay included his girlfriend’s mussels marinara, iced teas, dessert and coffee.
Wow — truth really is stranger than fiction. The Onion couldn’t do better. So what happened next?
Find out, after the jump.
A criminal prosecution ensued:
Paul was eventually charged with defrauding the restaurant, a second-degree misdemeanor that has a maximum punishment of 60 days in jail.
Paul said he tried to mediate the dispute through the Better Business Bureau, but the restaurant didn’t respond.
Though minor cases like this almost always end up in a plea deal, Paul hired a lawyer who charges up to $500 per hour and went to trial..
Ralph Paul, you’re our hero. We’re shy about asking for new fries at McDonald’s when they give us the ones that have been under the heat lamp for half an hour.
The case proceeded to jury trial, where Ralph Paul wrapped himself in the flag:
Paul told the jury he is a retired lieutenant colonel with the Air Force. He flew fighter planes and served in Operation Desert Storm, he said.
Paul said the military taught him a code that does not allow him to be intimidated into accepting something he believes isn’t fair. He decided to go to trial on principle, believing his cause was just.
Ralph Paul’s $500 an hour lawyer, John Lauro, also sounded lofty themes:
The entree Paul ordered is called “Shrimp and Scallop Verdura.”
“Verdura in Italian,” defense lawyer John Lauro told the jury in all seriousness, “means true.”
Actually, it mean “vegetables.”
Despite Lauro’s deficient knowledge of Italian, the jury of six acquitted after brief deliberations.
The jury took less than a half-hour to find Paul not guilty.
Jury foreman Stacie Dull said jurors didn’t think Paul meant to defraud anyone when he got to the restaurant. They also were impressed that he tried to pay for a portion of the bill.
“It showed he made an effort,” she said. “If he had done nothing, it probably would have been different.”
Just when you thought this ridiculousness couldn’t be taken any more serious, the management of Angelino’s issued an official statement about the case:
The irony in this case is that Angellino’s is known for very generous portions and most of our customers cannot finish their entree in one sitting. Like most restaurants, Angellino’s policy is to deduct the cost of a meal from a bill if the customer is not satisfied for any reason and the customer does not eat the meal.
In Mr. Paul’s case, he complimented the quality of the food, ate all of the seafood, some of the pasta and most of the vegetables he was served. He was also very abrasive and belligerent to our server to the point that he brought her to tears.
The restaurant’s claim of “very generous portions” is confirmed by the Gayot dining guide review, which describes Angelino’s portions as “really big… there are almost guaranteed to be leftovers.”
This next paragraph appears next to the word “disingenuous” in the dictionary:
Angellino’s is naturally disappointed with the jury’s verdict, but we are even more disappointed that Mr. Paul was not satisfied with his last dining experience with us. We regret that this incident occurred, and going forward we intend to do whatever is necessary to satisfy our customers.
We doubt that Angelino’s is terribly eager to welcome Ralph Paul again. If he knows what’s good for him, he’ll never return. Unless he’s a fan of Linguine With Clam Sauce and a Hint of Smegma.
5 shrimp, 5 scallops, 1 Unhappy Diner [St. Petersburg Times via How Appealing]
Diner: Public Has Me All Wrong [St. Petersburg Times via How Appealing]
Angellino’s Management Makes Statement [St. Petersburg Times]
Angelino’s review [Gayot]