The defendant in the Duluth doctor-rating defamation case that we recounted here and here “told the Star Tribune he spent the equivalent of two years’ income, some of which he had to borrow from relatives who supplied the money by raiding their retirement funds.” The Minnesota Supreme Court eventually ruled that his comments were protected opinion. The doctor/plaintiff, for his part, spent $60,000 pursuing the suit. [Twin Cities Business]
The same article, a “Lawsuits of the Year 2013″ feature, also recounts how a couple under the influence of “sovereign citizen” teachings “filed more than $250 billion in liens, and other claims, against those they considered the cause of their problems, including [Hennepin County Sheriff Rich] Stanek, county attorneys and other court officials. The liens were filed against vehicles, houses and even mineral rights.” When Stanek went to refinance his property, he discovered he had been hit with $25 million in liens which took “several years” to remove entirely. The husband of the couple was sent to prison.
A big source of frivolous litigation these days, the “sovereign citizen” cult originated on the political right but has now spread more widely [Lorelei Laird, ABA Journal]:
When involved in any legal matter, from pet licensing to serious criminal charges, sovereigns are known for filing legal-sounding gibberish, usually pro se, learned from other sovereigns who sell lessons in “law” online. Frequently, they cite the Uniform Commercial Code, maritime law and the Bible.
They’re also known for the sheer volume of their filings, which can double the size of a normal docket. …
Some sovereigns hold trials in their own “common-law courts,” convicting public officials in absentia and sentencing them to death for “treason.” …Sovereigns sometimes say they are subject only to “God’s law” or to “common law,” meaning the U.S. legal system as they believe it existed before the conspiracy. They may declare themselves independent nations, join fictional American Indian tribes or attempt to create a replacement government within the sovereign community.
Don’t assume that public officials and public employees are the only ones swept in:
The Atta family locked up their Temecula, Calif., home and went on vacation in 2012. While they were gone, Victor Cheng moved in.
Cheng had owned the home before the Attas, but he lost it in foreclosure. Nonetheless, he filed a fraudulent deed with the county recorder’s office, transferred the utilities into his name and even tried to evict the Attas after their return. During his prosecution for burglary, trespassing and filing a false document, he insisted that he was not the person being prosecuted because the indictment spelled his name in all capital letters.
Full story here.
No, a random group of discontented citizens can’t declare itself a grand jury. Good grief. [Bozeman Daily Chronicle; compare frivolous "sovereign citizen" claims] More: Greenfield.
Durable as a matter of folk law though carrying no weight at all within most courts as actually constituted, various widely circulated theories (“free man,” “sovereign citizen,” etc.) purport to establish a right of litigants to escape courts’ ordinary jurisdiction; sometimes it’s also alleged that tax laws and other longstanding enactments are flawed and of no binding effect. Last month a Canadian jurist by the name of J.D. Rooke handed down an opinion anatomizing different varieties of “Organized Pseudolegal Commercial Argument” ["OPCA"] seized on as a basis for vexatious litigation [Meads vs. Meads, Court of Queen's Bench of Alberta, Sept. 18]
P.S. A glimpse of the “sovereign citizen” scene in the U.S., h/t Lowering the Bar.
Across the country, reports Court TV, prison inmates are harassing lawyers and court personnel by filing liens against them for supposed violations of the inmates’ copyright in their own names. The copyright-in-one’s-name premise may be supremely absurd — an egregious example of the homespun legal reasoning I once described, in the context of tax protests, as “folk law” — but it works surprisingly well as a means of harassment: the target’s credit standing may be frozen until he manages to get the lien on his house removed, which can be an expensive and time-consuming undertaking (Emanuella Grinberg, “What’s in a name? A fortune, some inmates say”, Court TV, Mar. 17). Curmudgeonly Clerk (Mar. 30) cites several federal cases that have arisen from this abuse (complete with an opinion by Judge Easterbrook) and points out that despite the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995, the system clearly has a way to go in curbing unfounded inmate litigation.
Daniel Gross reports on a doughty band of tax protesters who insist that they are not actually obliged by law to engage in payroll tax withholding, and quotes our editor as describing this position as arising from “folk law”, in the form of legal claims that “bubbled up without any encouragement from the legal profession.” (“America’s Oddest Tax Dodge – Can Section 861 of the Internal Revenue Code save you from income taxes?”, Slate/MSNBC, Jul. 30).