It took nearly two years, three courts and five judges, but a lawyer has cleared himself of a shoplifting conviction. At the center of the dispute? $3.76.
A three-judge appeals panel ruled that a charge of shoplifting should not have applied when Adam Goodmann walked out of a Walgreens without paying for a set of photo prints.
Goodmann claimed he should have been charged $5.99 as promoted in a flier; the store in Fair Lawn wanted $9.75.
"It just goes to show you, the smallest case with the smallest money at issue can make law," prosecutor Annmarie Cozzi said, adding that no appeal is planned.
Goodman had gone to the store on March 7, 2005, to pick up film that had been redeveloped after the initial set did not include the date, according to the opinion. He refused to pay the higher price. Assistant store manager John Evans testified that he told Goodmann he would be charged with shoplifting if he refused to return the snapshots.
Goodmann responded, "Do what you can" and wrote his name and address on some paper along with the words "will settle this in court." He left with the pictures. Police were called and shoplifting charges were filed.
Goodmann said efforts to resolve a "billing dispute" failed. Acting as his own lawyer, he was convicted in Municipal Court, fined $150 and ordered to pay the $9.75 and perform 10 days of community service. Goodmann appealed and a state Superior Court judge upheld the conviction. So he appealed again.
Appeals Judge Edith K. Payne wrote for the three-judge panel that Goodmann's conduct was not covered under the state's shoplifting law.
Efforts to locate Goodmann on Friday were not successful. Walgreen Co. spokeswoman Carol Hively said there would be no comment from the company, which is based in Deerfield, Ill.
Cozzi, the assistant prosecutor in Bergen County, could not estimate how much time was spent on the case but said it was worth pursuing because, "Once there is a conviction, we have an interest in seeing that it was upheld."