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Trump’s election petitions and the making of a vexatious litigant

Monday November 30 2020
Trump pic

I have been following the US presidential elections and the challenges that the incumbent President Donald Trump and his campaign and supporters have put up in courts in different states with the intention of revising or stopping the declaration of victory for his opponent Joe Biden in that election.

The constant claim is that the elections were fraudulently conducted to ensure President Trump’s defeat. They claim to have a lot of evidence to prove these claims. Hence the rush to court in droves.

What is clear is the Trump team’s challenges have not had a good run in the courts.

I read somewhere that as of mid this week, the much-talked-about lawsuits had yielded paltry results.

The numbers stood at one case with limited success, 35 lost and a few more withdrawn by the team, presumably upon realising the futility of the litigation. Despite this low level of success or failure in court, the Trump campaign was unrelenting.

This relentless approach in the face of mighty odds makes one think of persons who are otherwise known as indefatigable litigators.

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Persistent litigation is described across professions in different ways.

In law, such persons are known as vexatious litigators or hyper litigators.

Cases of persons who engage in persistent and often pointless court cases are referred to, in medical terms, as querulous paranoia.

Although any person who feels aggrieved by the act or omission of another is entitled to file a lawsuit to seek redress as a matter of right, there are instances where a court may adjudge a particular person ineligible to bring a case against another party or in respect of a matter.

This would be where the person filing the suit constantly files cases out of malice and without any basis; mostly against the same person or on the same issue, even after being defeated before.

This can be because the suit filed has no merit or has previously been heard and determined.

An example is Lawrence of Lawrence Bittaker, a member of a gang known as the Toolbox Killers.

While in prison for murders, Mr Bittaker filed 40 lawsuits against the California state government over what the courts found to be trifles.

One such case was a complaint that the prison authorities had subjected him to cruel and inhuman treatment.

In Mr Bittaker’s suit, the cruelty arose from the fact that he had been served crushed sandwiches and broken cookies by the prison cafeteria staff.

Following a complaint, the courts in California declared this inmate a vexatious litigant and forbade him from filing any lawsuit without the permission of a judge.

In other words, Mr Bittaker would have to justify to a judge why he would want to file a suit before he could be allowed to do so.

Mr Bitakker is, however, not the master of the deluge of vexatious litigation.

That record belongs to Jonathan Lee Riches, who filed a total of 2,600 lawsuits in several district courts in the United States over a period of six years!

The vexatious thing about Jonathan Riches was that he filed an average of a case daily for a period of six years.

This could match the filing rate of a moderately sized law firm, except that he was the claimant in all of them.

Some of the people he sued are the Somali pirates, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and the US Immigration and Naturalization Service. He did all this by taking advantage of the law, which allowed a poor person to file a case without paying legal filing fees.

This vexatious streak made a court to declare that he could not file a case without paying the legal costs himself as a deterrent.

A person could also be a vexatious litigant owing to the nature of causes that he seeks to litigate. This would be where Antony Robert Martin belongs.

Mr Martin was known to litigate by making anti-semitic claims in his court papers and was thus declared to be misusing the courts for an improper motive, namely to perpetrate anti-Semitism.

Vexatious litigation can also be made by , would you believe it, religious organisations.

A church in the United States and its members have been declared vexatious litigants.

This is because they are given to filing suits that do not seek to resolve a dispute as would normally be expected. Instead , the church and its followers have been found to have sued with the intention of damaging persons they believe to be their opponents.

This was found to have been the case by the United States District Court of California.

The court said it was abundantly clear that the plaintiff (church) sought to harass the individual defendants through massive over-litigation and other questionable litigation tactics.

The case was then dismissed as frivolous and malicious.

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SEKOU OWINO is a commentator on political and social issues based in Nairobi