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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