Diner says the public has him all wrong
Some people have made him the butt of jokes or decided that he is rude, arrogant and egotistical.
By CHRIS TISCH
Published October 6, 2006
Ralph Paul feels misunderstood.
The New Port Richey man who went to trial over the number of shrimp and scallops in his seafood dish believes his case is not funny or amusing. He has turned down requests from radio and television comedy shows across the country trying to book him as a guest.
Paul thinks those who have expressed negative opinions about him on the St. Petersburg Times Web site have got him all wrong.
“This is not the way I would have people across the nation come to know who Ralph Paul is,” he said Friday afternoon.
Paul, 54, said he was invited to appear on the Late Show with David Letterman and the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. He turned down both. His case, he says, is no laughing matter.
“It’s not funny to me,” Paul said.
A story about his case first appeared in the Times Thursday. Another appeared on Friday. Paul said the stories were accurate, but he felt they omitted some details that were important for people to understand his side of the tale.
He believes that’s why so many of the online posts have been negative toward him.
Paul submitted a three-page letter to the Times Friday, explaining his case in more detail. The newspaper posted the letter on itsyourtimes.com.
“I never sought fame or limelight,” Paul wrote. “I had no idea that my unfortunate situation would lead to a 'media frenzy’ that would engulf the entire nation.”
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.
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. After a seven-hour trial, a jury of six deliberated less than a half-hour before finding Paul not guilty.
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.
But some readers thought he was arrogant, egotistical and rude. And they said so on the Times Web site. One reader called him a clown. Another called him a windbag. Another called him Lt. Col. Fussypants.
Paul said the posts that suggested he was a thief hiding behind his military background hurt him the most.
“I’ll be honest. That hurt me. That cut me like nothing else could,” Paul said. “My integrity and honor are things that I hold close.”
Angellino’s issued a statement Friday evening that the Times also has published online.
“The irony in this case is that Angellino’s is known for very generous portions and most of our customers cannot finish the entree in one sitting,” the statement reads. “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.”
Chris Tisch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Last modified October 6, 2006, 21:20:09]
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