Litigious inmate

August 3, 2009
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It seems like a month doesn’t go by without my reading an appellate case involving Eric D. Smith. It’s such a generic name, but his name always jumps out during a quick scan of the appellate opinions. He had two suits ruled on today.

Smith is very well-known by the courts, and because of the nature of our paper, we are also quite familiar with him. This inmate at the New Castle Correctional Facility has a penchant for litigation. According to appellate opinions, he has more than 50 cases on the docket and files about one suit a month.

Why? He’s purposely trying to clog up the judicial system. He’s upset about his arson conviction in 2001 and 20-year sentence. He’s filed dozens of law suits pro se alleging various violations involving makeshift hammocks, confiscated mail, and disciplinary hearing matters.

I don’t know of any other inmate who’s filed and appealed as many suits as Smith has. If there is, he or she isn’t appealing the trial court decisions with as much frequency as Smith.

Usually his suits get dismissed as frivolous, but every once in a while, he scores a victory. Last year, an appeal of his led to the Indiana Supreme Court holding the Three Strikes Law to be unconstitutional because it violated the Open Courts Clause of the state constitution.

As someone who reads appellate opinions every day, when I see his name on the list, I chuckle because I already have an idea that his case is going to be dismissed for being frivolous. I also think back to a handwritten letter he sent to Indiana Lawyer a few years ago, encouraging anarchy and saying he’s going to file every suit he can think of just to bog down the system. When you’re in prison, I guess that’s one way to try to “get back” at the judicial system.

I imagine the judges who have to deal with his filings aren’t amused. But as the appellate judges frequently point out, even if his suits end up being baseless, if they aren’t clearly baseless on the face, they have to survive. The courts still have to decide the merits of the case, even though they know Smith’s legal background.

Smith is getting his intended point across: He wants to annoy anyone who is responsible for putting him in prison and keeping him there. The judges in opinions constantly note his litigious nature, but by law, they must rule on his appeals. And as long as he keeps filing suits and the courts rule on them, we’ll keep writing about him.
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  1. Based on several recent Indy Star articles, I would agree that being a case worker would be really hard. You would see the worst of humanity on a daily basis; and when things go wrong guess who gets blamed??!! Not biological parent!! Best of luck to those who entered that line of work.

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  3. Don't believe me, listen to Pacino: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6bC9w9cH-M

  4. Law school is social control the goal to produce a social product. As such it began after the Revolution and has nearly ruined us to this day: "“Scarcely any political question arises in the United States which is not resolved, sooner or later, into a judicial question. Hence all parties are obliged to borrow, in their daily controversies, the ideas, and even the language, peculiar to judicial proceedings. As most public men [i.e., politicians] are, or have been, legal practitioners, they introduce the customs and technicalities of their profession into the management of public affairs. The jury extends this habitude to all classes. The language of the law thus becomes, in some measure, a vulgar tongue; the spirit of the law, which is produced in the schools and courts of justice, gradually penetrates beyond their walls into the bosom of society, where it descends to the lowest classes, so that at last the whole people contract the habits and the tastes of the judicial magistrate.” ? Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

  5. Attorney? Really? Or is it former attorney? Status with the Ind St Ct? Status with federal court, with SCOTUS? This is a legal newspaper, or should I look elsewhere?

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