In Lou. courts, serial lawsuit filers draw wrath of judges - WDRB 41 Louisville News

SUNDAY EDITION: In Louisville courts, serial lawsuit filers hit with wrath of judges

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- In November, Louisville resident Edward Flint filed a lawsuit against the publisher and top editors of The Courier-Journal, claiming they had ignored his allegations of corruption by local judges and public officials – and that the newspaper executives were part of a cover-up.

The newspaper is only the most recent of Flint's legal targets. Since 2007, he has filed more than two dozen lawsuits in Jefferson Circuit Court and U.S. District Court, against Target, Meijer, his St. Matthews-area condo association, Gov. Steve Beshear and at least 14 judges, among others.

Acting as his own lawyer -- called "pro se" in legal language --  Flint has filed so many questionable lawsuits that former Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Martin McDonald last year ordered that Jefferson circuit and district court clerks no longer accept lawsuits filed by Flint without first getting permission from a judge.

Just a year earlier, U.S. District Judge John Heyburn ruled that Flint would be sanctioned $700 every time he filed additional lawsuits against federal or state judges for allegedly being biased against him.

The actions taken against Flint are among the ways judges are trying to curtail what they say are frivolous pro se lawsuits that clog the courts.

"It's a fine line when you are talking about access to the court system," said Allison Gardner Martin, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Jack Conway, whose office represented several judges sued by Flint.

"It's when you start abusing the court system, specifically some citizens who have filed tens, dozens, hundreds of lawsuits … bogging down the system and infringing on rights of other citizens who have a right to speedy trial, court dates and access," she said.

With that in mind, Martin said prisoners or jail inmates who file more than three lawsuits within a five-year period must have their suits pre-screened to ensure they have merit.

And other people have been prohibited from filing cases against certain entities, she said.

"It's important that the Supreme Court outlined in previous rulings provisions where we can seek damages or limit the ability to file lawsuits by some folks who have abused the system," she said. "It's not something we seek lightly. We do believe all citizens should have access to court system."

While Flint is one of the regulars at the civil filing desk in Jefferson Circuit Court, he is not alone.

Louisville resident Theresa Gerstle, for example, has filed more than 40 lawsuits as her own attorney in Circuit Court.

Former mayoral candidate Connie Marshall has filed dozens of suits as well. Last August, she filed a federal lawsuit against County Attorney Mike O'Connell, the Louisville Metro Police Department and several officers asking for $10 million for violating her constitutional rights. The case is pending.

Most of these suits are dismissed within a few months, though some plod on through the appeals process for years.

It costs about $150 to file a lawsuit in Jefferson Circuit Court, where the damages are expected to be more than $4,000.

In an interview, Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Judith McDonald-Burkman said the lawsuits are treated on their merits like any other case. She would not talk specifically about Flint or the other serial litigants.

"It takes away what little time there is from other cases, but they are given the same attention," she said. "It clogs the court system up but that's part of our job. I don't see it ever going away."

But some courts have clearly tired of the suits.

In dismissing one of Flint's suits against his Coach House condominium association, Jefferson Circuit Judge McKay Chauvin wrote that he was ruling against Flint in part because of his "history of lawsuits which are filed in such quantity as to be frivolous and without any basis in the law or reality."

In another dismissal, Chauvin wrote that Flint was "convinced that he is the victim of a personal vendetta on the part of the board (and anyone he perceives to be taking the Board's part in the matter) to do him harm.  It is also clear to the Court that, regardless of how sincerely Mr. Flint believes himself to have been wronged, there is no basis for that belief in reality.  The Court is obliged to impose reality on these proceedings."

In 2007, Chauvin briefly held Marshall in contempt because of her "repeated comments" that the judge had accepted bribes from the defendant in a lawsuit.

He vacated that contempt order after Marshall agreed to conduct herself "in an appropriate and respectful" manner when appearing before the court in the future.

While there are several serial filers in Jefferson County, few fight their cases with as much tenacity as the 83-year-old Flint.

In the 1980s, he was both national and Kentucky president of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, which represents trainers and owners and negotiates with racetracks for revenues from purses, simulcasting and wagering.

As his own attorney, he consistently appeals his decisions to higher courts, including the Kentucky Supreme Court. He pays his own costs.

Last June, Flint was sued by his own condominium owners' association, which claimed it had to constantly defend itself against his meritless lawsuits and then defend appeals of those suits once they were dismissed. Coach House Condominiums claimed Flint had sued them a half-dozen times in the last five years and was abusing the justice system.

At the same time, Flint was filing lawsuits in federal court against the judges who were handling his suits -- causing delays as judges were forced to recuse themselves.

Judge Martin McDonald ordered Flint to pay the condo association $11,579 and wrote that the Jefferson circuit and district court clerks were told to no longer to accept his lawsuits without first obtaining a court order.

Flint then appealed McDonald's order and filed a federal lawsuit against McDonald, claiming the judge has stifled his 1st Amendment right to free speech by forbidding him to file lawsuits.

Attorneys for McDonald responded that the judge only limited Flint from suing Coach House and that the Kentucky Supreme Court has held that judges can restrict pro se litigants' filings.

Flint's federal lawsuit against McDonald claimed the judge had never let him speak about his lawsuit and that he is not allowed to prohibit him from having access to the courts.

"Can judges make up a rule that says the judge's gets (sic) to approve what lawsuits can be filed and who can be sued?" Flint wrote, according to court records. "The answer is no."

Flint's lawsuit was dismissed and he was fined $700, though the federal ruling did not state whether McDonald's order could bar Flint from filing future lawsuits in circuit court.

"They did not confront the issue and won't confront the issue because they can't stop me," said Flint in an interview.

In the end, not every circuit court judge agreed to enter McDonald's order, so clerks are not enforcing any special provision that would prohibit Flint from filing lawsuits, said Kevin Smalley, general counsel for the Jefferson circuit clerk's office. McDonald is no longer on the bench.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that frivolous claims by pro se litigants may be barred, noting that "every paper filed in court exhausts some of the court's limited resources."

In a separate lawsuit filed by Flint against U.S. Magistrate Judge Dave Whalin, a judge ruled that any additional filings of "similarly frivolous lawsuits in this Court will result in the imposition of sanctions against (Flint)."

In 2001, a federal judge ruled that a Greenup County man had abused his rights of access to the courts by filing frivolous lawsuits. But a 2010 Kentucky Court of Appeals decision found that "a court's complete barring by sanction of a litigant's right to file all claims should be its last resort."

That decision recommended a screening process of the plaintiff's cases to ensure the lawsuit isn't frivolous.

For his part, Flint said his condo association "has to be run by the by laws. And when they won't abide by them, I sue them and the courts protect them."

He called the courts corrupt and said judges have refused to let his cases go to trial. Asked whether his lawsuits have merit, Flint said there is "not a frivolous one in the bunch."

He claims that he won his lawsuit with Meijer – one of the few in which he had an attorney – when they settled out of court for $10,000. That settlement could not be verified in court records.

The suit against The Courier-Journal requests that, if the claims are proven, the newspaper publish Flint's "petitions for impeachment of Kentucky judges" and Beshear, and also remove the editors listed in the suit from their position at the paper for six months -- unless the editors give six months' salary to a charity of Flint's choice.

Flint is also asking the court to order that the newspaper -- using a reporter of Flint's choice -- publish a story about his lawsuit against the paper.

Flint says he has a trial coming up in Jefferson Circuit Court, where an appeals court overturned a dismissed case against an attorney who had one time represented his condo association. Flint claims the attorney slandered him and he will prove it was done with malice.

"I'm as good a lawyer in these things as anyone in this town, but these judges can't stand someone not being a lawyer," said Flint, who peppers his speech with legal jargon. "I was right on every case that I filed and I will never give in."

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