Many organizations and individuals have now filed amicus briefs in the case filed by climate scientist Michael Mann against bloggers, journalists and a think tank (the Competitive Enterprise Institute) that had published or linked to hostile commentary about him. Among them is a brief filed on behalf of the Cato Institute, Reason Foundation, Individual Rights Foundation, and Goldwater Institute whose point, as Ilya Shapiro explains, is to “urge the court to stay out of the business of refereeing scientific debates.” Among filers of other briefs just entered: Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 26 other organizations, online publishers and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and defendant/commentator Mark Steyn. Earlier here, etc. More: Alison Frankel, Reuters.
Unrelatedly, a Maryland judge has ruled in favor of a large group of defendant-bloggers and entered a directed verdict against Brett Kimberlin’s defamation suit; claims he has filed in federal court remain unresolved. Reporter Dave Weigel was there, and tweeted: “Kimberlin says the bloggers will face ‘endless lawsuits for the rest of their lives.’” [Legal Insurrection, Ken White, Popehat; recent background on federal-court side of case from Paul Alan Levy and more, earlier] (Updated to clarify which of the matters Levy was writing about). More: Weigel in the Daily Beast.
Upland, Calif.: “A California family is stumped about what to do with a live-in nanny they say refuses to work, refuses to be fired and refuses to leave. In fact, Marcella Bracamonte claims that the nanny, Diane Stretton, has threatened to sue the family for wrongful firing and elder abuse.” Stretton’s hiring agreement with the Bracamontes entitles her to room and board as part of her compensation, but she now indicates that she is suffering a disability and stays mostly in her room, the couple says. After the dispute arose the Bracamontes discovered that Stretton is on the state vexatious-litigants list and has been involved in at least 36 lawsuits; police say because Stretton is in residence it is a civil matter, but a judge threw out the couple’s initial eviction attempt, saying they had not filled out a quit notice correctly. [ABC News, auto-plays video ad; CBS Los Angeles] In September of last year, whether coincidentally or not, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law the so-called California Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, affording domestic workers substantially more legal leverage in disputes with their employers. [SCPR] (& Scott Greenfield, with commenters)
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.
Over “incessant filing of frivolous lawsuits.” [Lowering the Bar, opinion in Conrad v. AM Community Credit Union et al. (PDF)]
Getting placed on the vexatious-litigants list might not actually slow you down all that much in the pace of your suit-filing. A frequent Sacramento litigant has been on the list since 2003 but nonetheless obtains fee waivers by pleading poverty even as property is held in trust or in his wife’s name, uses variations of his name that throw adversaries off the track, and, according to an opponent, gets around a ban on pro se filing by using a lawyer to file and then substituting himself as counsel. [KXTV (auto-plays), ABA Journal]
Meet the lawyer who sued the Fort Lauderdale Bridge Club in a dispute over its having ended his membership. The club proceeded to declare bankruptcy under his courtroom onslaught: “Since then there have been more than 600 docket entries in the bankruptcy case as Rosen pursued numerous motions and litigation.” [Joe Patrice/Above the Law, Daily Business Report]
“The man who sued the Dominican Republic because it rained during his vacation has been labeled a ‘quarrelsome litigant’ by a Quebec judge. … Court of Quebec Justice Diane Quenneville ruled last month that ‘the court has no hesitation to conclude that Leduc is abusing the justice system.’” [QMI/Canoe.ca]
“Mr. Smith says he is simply trying to get the truth out about New York’s powerful. … But I came to believe that his intent could well be to tell fanciful stories in hopes of drawing media attention to extract settlement payments in his lawsuits.” [Andrew Ross Sorkin, New York Times]
New York Post:
Wheelchair-riding Linda Slone, 64, is suing 39 shops in her neighborhood for not being handicapped-accessible.
The legal crusade is netting her thousands, but Slone, who cannot walk because of polio, insists she is simply championing the rights of the disabled.
“If you think this is a money-making scheme, you’re dead wrong,” said Slone, a speech pathologist.
The Florida-based Weitz Law Firm, which represents Slone, “also represents Zoltan Hirsch, a Brooklyn double amputee who The Post revealed last year filed 147 suits citing the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
Scott Greenfield wonders what the brownstones of Columbus Avenue will look like by the time the shopowners and landlords somehow manage to completely ADA-proof them.
Canada: “It started with a car crash in 1988 that sparked a court case and, last month, three judges suggested it was time to end; in between, Ural Direk launched more than 120 lawsuits, filed thousands of pages of documents, filled a trailer full of evidence, sought secret hearings to unveil dark campaigns against him, and linked the outcome of his cases to a Jewish conspiracy.” Mr. Direk prevailed in his original lawsuit, but considered the $34,984 damages awarded unsatisfactory and filed a losing appeal whose ramifications have continued to this day. A judicial panel has now recommended that he be declared a vexatious litigant. [National Post]
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.