'The most litigious man in history'

September 10, 2010
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Indiana Lawyer reporter Michael W. Hoskins wrote this post.

You might hear the name Gordon Gekko and think of the movie “Wall Street” and the character played by Michael Douglas. But that name has special meaning for Indiana’s federal courts, where a prisoner pro se litigant uses that as one of his many aliases to file lawsuit after lawsuit.

A current resident of the Federal Medical Center hospital prison in Kentucky, prisoner litigant Jonathan Lee Riches has filed 34 lawsuits in the Hoosier federal courts during the past five years – 11 in the Southern District, five in the Northern District, and 18 at the appellate level with a few still open.

But that’s only a small slice of his overall impact on the nation’s court system. He’s filed a ridiculous number of suits – federal dockets show 1,453 as of this morning -- in federal courts nationally since his arrest and incarceration. That stemmed from his arrest for a multi-state wire fraud and identify theft ring, which he received a 10-year federal sentence on. His projected release date is in March 2012, but before that comes he’s making a name for himself as a serial prisoner litigant.

Through the years, some of his more famous lawsuit targets have been New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, former President George W. Bush, Martha Stewart, NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, entrepreneur and Apple guru Steve Jobs, Somali pirates, and pop singer Britney Spears.

The Guinness Book of World Records designated him as the most litigious man in history, filing or intervening in more than 5,000 civil and criminal cases at all levels. Of course, he sued Guinness for tagging him that way, along with the Library of Congress, Encyclopedia Britannica and some other publishers who he claimed hurt his feelings and violated his civil rights by doing a disservice to his hard work.

In Indiana’s federal courts, Riches sued the 2008 World Series teams – Tampa Bay Rays and Philadelphia Phillies – for creating a danger for him in prison by angry Florida fans who could watch the game past the normal 10 p.m. lockdown time. He’s also sued all nine U.S. Supreme Court justices for not releasing him from prison and blaming them for the harsh conditions he’s had to live in. U.S. Judge Robert Miller in the Northern District has dismissed his claims as frivolous – as have other Indiana District judges – and restricted Riches from entering any more appearances in that court.

His latest intervention comes at the 7th Circuit level, in the case against former East Chicago Mayor Robert Pastrick who along with former top aides is on the hook for $108 million in damages following a default judgment from Judge James Moody earlier this year. The case stems from the Sidewalk Six paving-for-votes scheme, in which the longtime mayor and his allies misspent $25 million in public funds on paving project in exchange for primary election votes in 1999.

Using the alias Gordon Gekko, the litigation-happy Riches is appealing the November 2008 decision by Judge Moody to not let this pro se prisoner litigant intervene in the Pastrick case.

“Citing his convictions for computer hacking and identity theft, Riches claims that he ‘can provide this court with vital information dealing with these types of crimes, as I’m a whistleblower and a [sic] Advocate Against crime.’ Without providing any factual support, Riches makes the highly-suspect claim that he has newly discovered evidence pertaining to this case.”

Judge Moody found he didn’t make the required showing to meet the federal rules of civil procedure, and on Sept. 1 the prisoner litigant appealed to the 7th Circuit. The Federal Prisoner Litigation Reform Act applies and the appellate court has suspended proceedings until he pays the required fee. Meanwhile, the case plays on at the District level without Riches – or Gekko -- as the state tries to collect the $108 million judgment.

Is there any question what his intentions are here in clogging the courts? One of his filings offers some insight into the serial prisoner litigant’s mind. The motion comes from the Southern District of New York, which declined his request to represent Martha Stewart.

“Jonathan Lee Riches will be in every local, state, federal court in the world, then when my name gets banned or flagged, the 100’s of AKA’s of mine kick in and refile,” the motion says. “I’m Murphy’s Law, the Plague, Cyrus the Lawsuit Virus. I swine flu suits with tainted pork in the courts. I appeal. Anyone is welcome to write me. I appeal.”
 

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