Pro Se Litigants

Andrew Shirvell (far right) and Chris Armstrong

Here’s a quick update on a past Lawsuit of the Day. Last month, Chris Armstrong, the openly gay ex-president of the University of Michigan student body, sued Andrew Shirvell, the former Michigan assistant attorney general and outspoken opponent of homosexuality. As you may recall, Shirvell criticized Armstrong in a blog called Chris Armstrong Watch, making allegations that according to Armstrong were false, and Shirvell also followed Armstrong around Ann Arbor. So Armstrong sued Shirvell for stalking, invasion of privacy, and defamation (among other claims).

Now Andrew Shirvell is firing back. Last week, Shirvell, proceeding pro se [FN1], moved to dismiss Chris Armstrong’s lawsuit.

Not surprisingly, Shirvell claimed in his motion to be a victim: “Plaintiff’s course of conduct was politically motivated and intended to make an example out of Defendant in order to deter others from criticizing Plaintiff’s homosexual activist agenda.” More specifically, Shirvell argued that certain counts of the Armstrong complaint fail to state claims upon which relief can be granted, that Shirvell’s criticism of Armstrong was protected by the First Amendment, and that Shirvell never had direct contact with Armstrong (e.g., by email or by phone).

In addition, Shirvell lodged some counterclaims against Armstrong. What is the basis for Shirvell suing Armstrong?

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We’re a little bit late with April’s lawyer of the month reader poll. First of all, we’ve been doing a lot of reader voting so far in this month. (There are still a few hours for you to vote in our Law Revue Video Contest.)

The other reason why we’re a bit delinquent this month is because we think we know who is going to win. It’s not every day that a recent law grad finds himself trying a murder case — and getting reprimanded by the judge for “lack[ing] knowledge of proper trial procedure.”

Such is life during the Obama “recovery.” Check out this month’s nominees below…

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Still shocked that yesterday our attorney lost to a pro se litigant that was immediately taken into custody after the verdict for drinking in court, being drunk while in court and blowing a .13!!!

Facebook status update of a person who works for a tow truck company who watched something horrible happen.

Here’s some good news for lawyers who enjoy blogging or instant-messenger services like Gchat. It’s right in the headline of this here National Law Journal story: Smiley face, snark, don’t render law grad unfit to practice.

Many of us get snarky in our personal writing, and many of us employ emoticons in email messages or Gchat exchanges. As litigators well know, sometimes a cold transcript doesn’t adequately convey tone. For this reason, I’ve even seen federal judges use winking smiley-face emoticons in email messages.

But you shouldn’t use smiley faces in documents you file with the court — even the super-icky courts that hear traffic appeals (yes, they exist). This is a lesson that Marilyn Ringstaff, a 2006 graduate of John Marshall Law School, learned the hard way….

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Jonathan Lee Riches and Jared Loughner

Over the past year, we haven’t covered a lot of the crazy lawsuits initiated by Jonathan Lee Riches. The man has sued everybody from Eliot Spitzer to Molly Ringwald. At some point, you get used to the drill. And there are always other crazy pro se litigants to write about.

But the embarrassment of riches in Riches’s latest complaint should remind everyone why he is still the king of pro se whackjobs. On January 24th, he filed for a temporary restraining order against Jared Lee Loughner, the alleged shooter in the Tucson attacks. Riches claims that if the Bureau of Prisons should transfer Loughner to the Lexington, Kentucky facility that currently holds Riches, Loughner might use “his bare hands or a prison shank to kill me for being a moderate Democrat.”

And if you know anything about Riches, you know that quote isn’t anywhere near the craziest claim in his complaint…

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For a long time, Jonathan Lee Riches reigned as Craziest Pro Se Litigant in America. But at a certain point, JLR jumped the proverbial shark. His handwritten complaints, making bizarre allegations against everyone from Michael Vick to Martha Stewart to the late Benazir Bhutto, were just too clever by half. And once he passed the 1,500 mark in lawsuits, his shtick got… old.

Fortunately we have a new favorite pro se party for you. Meet Deborah Frisch (or Deborah E. Frisch, Ph.D., as she identifies herself in court filings). Frisch appears to be something of a loon, despite her doctorate and past teaching positions at such schools as the University of Oregon and the University of Arizona. Ironically enough, or maybe not so ironically, the nutty professor teaches… psychology.

Here’s the charming opening paragraph from a document that Frisch filed last week in federal district court in Oregon:

Plaintiff shall henceforth refer to self as litigant since she is defendant, appellant or plaintiff, depending on which shyster-vermin she is dealing with. Litigant files this response to the order filed by Docket Clerk Brinn and signed by USDC-OR Magistrate Coffin deeming all pending motions… moot since the frocked cowfucker in San Francisco denied the plaintiff’s appeal.

The “frocked cowfucker” appears to be the Honorable Alex Kozinski, Chief Judge of the Ninth Circuit, who served on a panel that rejected a Frisch appeal. For the record, his chambers are in Pasadena, not San Francisco.

Let’s look at the rest of Frisch’s filing, shall we?

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Practice pointer: don’t refer to judges as ‘frocked cowf**kers.’

You don’t know how to ask a question. You don’t know how to offer things into evidence. You keep making stupid speeches. You keep saying you are good at this. You are not. I do not say this to insult you.

Justice Carol Berkman to Robert Camarano, a pro se litigant representing himself in a murder trial in New York State Supreme Court.

Shon Hopwood.jpg“I used to be a bank robber.”

That’s an attention-grabbing lede for a personal essay for a law school application. Or:

“The Supreme Court granted my very first petition for cert. And then ruled in my favor unanimously.”

Shon Hopwood, 34, could start his application with either one of those statements. Convicted of five robberies in Nebraska in the late ’90s, he was sentenced to prison for 13 years, writes Adam Liptak in the New York Times:

Mr. Hopwood spent much of that time in the prison law library, and it turned out he was better at understanding the law than breaking it. He transformed himself into something rare at the top levels of the American bar, and unheard of behind bars — an accomplished Supreme Court practitioner.

Hopwood wrote a petition for cert for a fellow inmate, John Fellers, in 2002. Not only was it granted, veteran Supreme Court advocate Seth Waxman says, “It was probably one of the best cert. petitions I have ever read.”

High praise for a dude who doesn’t even have a law degree…

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David Minkin publisher AbovetheLaw Dealbreaker Breaking Media.jpgYesterday’s Lawsuit of the Day — Jones v. Minkin, a $44 million lawsuit against yours truly, Above the Law publisher David Minkin, and Dead Horse Media (now known as Breaking Media) — has been voluntarily dismissed by the plaintiff, University of Miami law professor Donald Jones.

There was NO SETTLEMENT in this case. Above the Law has made no changes to our prior posts, and we have paid no money to Professor Jones. The case was dismissed by the plaintiff without anything from our side, except a letter from our lawyer.

UPDATE (3:35 PM): We have offered Professor Jones a guest post on Above the Law in which to provide his side of the story, about either the lawsuit or the underlying facts. We have offered to keep the comments on that post closed or open, depending on his preference. (And we would have done this in the first place, had he made such a request.)

A huge thanks to our counsel, Marc Randazza.

Comment from Randazza, plus links to the notice of voluntary dismissal and other news outlets and blogs — we will UPDATE continually, so do check back for fresh links — after the jump.

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(Plaintiff voluntarily dismisses lawsuit against ATL.)

David Minkin publisher AbovetheLaw Dealbreaker Breaking Media.jpgFor the first time in over three years of operation, Above the Law has been sued. We feel the lawsuit has no merit, but we will not comment further on this ongoing litigation. To access the pro se complaint, coverage by other news outlets and blogs, and ATL’s prior posts about Professor Donald Jones, click on the links collected after the jump.

Please note that we have closed comments on this post, out of respect for the judicial process. Thank you.

UPDATE: We will be continually updating this post with links to news and blogosphere coverage. We have already added new links from the ABA Journal, the WSJ Law Blog, and the Volokh Conspiracy, among other sources.

The fresh links will appear AFTER THE JUMP, so check them out there. Thanks.

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(Or: Above the Law gets sued!!!)

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