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A Federal Appeals Court has taken an unusual approach to handling lawsuits by people accused of abusing the court system: assigning an Unidentified Judge to decide whether the court will hear the matter. Frustrated with increasing court dockets, judges around the country have taken special steps to deter suits by so-called vexatious litigants and protect corut officials. But the policy adopted by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York has raised concern among some civil libertarians, who question whether anonymous judges should have any roles in the judicial system.
"It is a bad precedent for a free society," said Harvey Silvergate of the Boston law firm of Silvergate and Good. "Once you breach the principle, even in the case of a guy who really is a paranoid, vexatious litigant, the exception will grow and grow."
The 2nd Circuit policy came to light earlier this month in a decision rejecting 2 requests to identify the judges deciding such matters. The requests were made by 2 men considered vexatious litiigants by the courts.
The appeals court said in its ruling that the policy was a "reasonable response to the harassing abuse of the litigation process."
The ruling, written by 2nd Circuit Chief Judge Jon Newman, said: "Maintaining confidentiality of the judge is a reasonable precaution, necessitated by the unfortunate tendency of some vexatious litigants to direct their harassing tactics personally at the judges whose rulings displease them."
The requests to identify the judges were made by Anthony R. Martin of Palm Beach, Florida and George Stassower of White Plains, New York.
The Court said in its ruling that the 2 men, who represent themselves in court, had shown "an extraordinary pattern of vexatious and harassing litigation pursued over several years."
Although courts can sanction people for filing frivolous lawsuits, such sanctions aren't always enough, the appeals court said. The court said that for some people it is necessary to craft special arrangements "that impose severe limitations on the opportunity of such individuals to pursue their penchant for vexatious litigation."
Then ruling explained how the policy works. An unidentified judge is assigned to each vexatious litigant, who has been previously sanctioned by the court. To file any motion with the appeals court, the person must get permission from that judge. If the judge denies the request, no appeal of that decision can be made, because it is treated as an unappealable procedural matter.
The court also declined to explain how a judge is assigned to a particular litigant. Several people are currently considered vexatious litigants by the appeals court and each has an assigned judge. The court said that sending all of one person's requests to a particular judge makes it easier to rule on the validity of the motions.
To illustrate the need to protect the identity of the judges the appeals court cited what it called an "outrageous action" taken by Mr. Martin to get back at the Federal judge whose rulings displeased him. The court said Mr. Martin had sought to intervene in the judge's divorce case and have himself appointed as the guardian for the judge's children. ...
"Judges have absolute immunity in cases like that," Mr. Silvergate said. "In exchange for immunity, the least judges could do is use their real names."
The judges' concerns "are understandable" said Alan Dershowitz, Harvard Law School Professor, "but it is totally antangonistic to the American justice system to have an anonymous judge." ....
Mr. Martin said, "It is the 1st time anyone in history has tried to create a secret court." In re Martin-Trigona No 93-5008, In re Sassower 93-3041
from the WSJ 11/18/93
Here's a message concerning the above article you'll find interesting.
While I don't know what kind of litigation Anthony R. Martin-Trigona is currently involved in I can truly understand why the Court found it necessary to refuse to identify the Judge involved in reviewing filings made by the gentlemen. I knew Tony in the late 60's and early 70's when he began his pseudo-legal career out here in Champaign County, Illinois. Tony passed all of his classes at the University of Illinois Law School and the written portion of the Illinois Bar Exam. He failed Character and Fitness and was denied a license to Practice by the Illinois Supreme Court. He appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and the denial of admission was affirmed.
Tony then engaged in real estate development locally while he ran for various offices and lost. He met litigation on contracts by filing spurious counter-claims against the opposing litigants and counsel. He would sue every one who had contact with the case, including the Judge to whom the case was assigned and then file a motion to recuse the judge because he, Tony was suing him.
He was successful in making litigation so expensive and vexatious that he usually wore his opponents out.
Finally, he defended a stop sign ticket by first throwing a punch at the cop and when that resulted in a second charge of resisting - he did not land the punch - he sought to remove the case to Federal Court claiming that the the stop sign ticket was in violation of his rights under the Constitution. When that was sucessful only in delaying trial about a year he filed an action against the former prosecutor, under whose administration the case was filed, the then current prosecutor who inherited the case and every judge in Illinois Sixth Circuit claiming that they had all engaged in a conspiracy to deprive him of something or other.
That action in the then Eastern District (now Central District) of Illinois asked for damages of $1 Million Plus. I represented the former prosecutor and filed a counter claim asking $15,000.00 damages for his vexatious pleading.
The amount was carefully calculated to reasonably reflect the cost to defend his vexatious pleadings and manuevers and to send a message to him hat we were not going to play his game and set the matter down for pre-trial conference.
Tony appeared and took a voluntary dismissal and Judge Henry Wise, on his own motion, dismissed our counter claim.
Meanwhile his manuevers and game playing delayed the stop sign ticket for another four years and the Third States Attorney was in charge of prosecuting the case. His tactic then was to a) meet with the States Attorney to "negotiate" the case. b) call the media and announced that the States Attorney was soliciting a bribe and set a press conference with the media for the following Friday on the Court house steps. The media got great motion pictures of Tony being served with sumons in a Defamation Action in which Fred Grosser and I represented the Plaintiff, Tom DiFanis the States Attorney.
A few weeks later an apartment building which Tony owned had a suspicious fire. Toney sued Fred and I and then Senator Charles Percy as well as every judge in the Sixth Judicial Circuit of Illinois charging that we had conspired to burn down his building. Fred and I were insulted when he only aske half a mil damages from us but wanted 6 mil from Percy. (I had never met Percy and never voted for the man)
The result of the defamation suit was a $750,000.00 jury verdict against the man. It was ultimately reversed on appeal but Tony left the area and surfaced again in Connecticut. I last hear of him as a "Florida Lawyer" announcing that he was going to run for Governor or some other Statewide office. I trust that the State of Florida has NOT admitted the gentleman to its bar and the identification as Lawyer was a journalists error.
The point of this long message is that the kind of vexatious conduct - as outrageous as it is - should not be an excuse for permitting courts to cloak themselves with anonimity. Such sanctions as jail - Tony has spent up to 18 months for contempt - won't deter him. I'm not sure that there is a solution other than providing for some protection to the bench for this kind of abuse of the system. Perhaps there is no solution consistant with providing an open court system available to the public scrutiny.
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