One of the worst experiences a person can endure when going through a divorce or other family law issue is dealing with what is known as a “vexatious litigant.” While it’s a big word, it actually describes a someone who uses the justice system to harass their former spouse, girlfriend, or someone else in a family matter. This type of person attempts to manipulate the proceedings by filing frivolous requests over and over. Time and time again the litigant’s requests are denied, but they keep filing motions anyway. Such behavior leads to increased attorney’s fees and frustration as the opposing side attempts to respond to the requests.
Luckily in California, there is a section of law known as the vexatious litigant statute. Continue reading to learn more.
What is a Vexatious Litigant?
California Code of Civil Procedure 391(b) defines a vexatious litigant as a person who has done the following:
- Commenced at least five litigations in the past seven years and has either been ruled against or the litigations have been unjustifiably permitted.
- Repeatedly attempted to re-litigate the validity of determinations against him (or her).
- While acting on his or her own behalf in court, repeatedly filed unmeritorious motions or engaged in frivolous tactics intended to cause unnecessary delay
- Previously been declared a vexatious litigant by any state or federal court based on similar actions
In family law, a vexatious litigant can get downright nasty. After all, its not a business dispute or an accident, a vexatious husband or wife can make your life (and your children’s lives) very difficult. After a contested divorce, people sometimes want a second bite at the judicial apple. This frequently happens when your ex-spouse is narcissistic and has delusions of grandeur. This also happens in cases where one spouse was successful in kicking the other spouse out of the house.
In October of 2016, a federal judge declared Brad Greenspan, the former owner of once popular social media site Myspace a vexatious litigant.
Greenspan was involved in a lawsuit with Google, News Corp and Ask.com. According to Law 360, Greenspan was declared vexatious after filing 16 frivolous motions during the lawsuit. U.S. District Judge Ronald M. Whyte found that Greenspan had an “extensive history” of making duplicative filings lacking in new evidence.
In California, the state court system actually maintains a list of vexatious litigants going back to 1991. One person on the list was mentioned in a 2014 blog post published by Life of the Law. The woman in question is named Melanie Latronica. She was placed on California’s registry after being declared a vexatious litigant by U.S. District Judge John Kirihara. In response, Latronica sued Kirihara.
In her complaint, she wrote that Kirihara harassed and stalked her, flattened her car tires, and made her car smell like gas. In addition, she wrote that Judge Kirihara “had a Chinese dentist drill holes in [her] good teeth and then…filled with a metallic substance.”
While some might be inclined to chuckle at such bizarre claims, it’s possible that this particular case stems from deep mental illness (no laughing matter). This example illustrates is the power an unstable person has to create chaos by exploiting the judicial system.
So how does a one go about having a person declared a vexatious litigant? What does it mean when such a declaration is made? Continue reading to learn more.
Is there Any Way To Stop Vexatious Litigants?
As with so many aspect of the legal field, there is no fail-safe way to altogether stop a determined person from being a nuisance. However, there are legal options available when it comes to limiting the actions of a person who files frivolous motions.
Under California’s Code of Civil procedures, it is possible for the court, either on its own motion, or upon the motion of any party (also known as a vexatious litigant motion), to enter what is known as a prefiling order. Such an order prohibits a vexatious litigant from filing any new requests with the court without first obtaining permission from the presiding judge.
This means that if such an order is made, a vexatious litigant can’t simply walk up to the court clerk’s window and file a motion without first getting permission. If the litigant does attempt to get a motion filed without permission, and the judge later finds out about it, the litigant could be held in contempt of court. This could lead to fines and even jail time for the vexatious litigant.
In some cases, the litigant could be ordered to post bond prior to filing a request. This type of order creates a powerful financial inventive that forces the litigant to carefully consider whether or not to file a motion.
What Should You Do If An Ex-Spouse Won’t Stop?
As with all legally complicated issues, a person’s best option for a solution lies with a good family lawyer. An objective legal mind can be indispensible in navigating the judicial system and filing the right paperwork in a timely fashion. It’s important to remember that family law is extremely complex. It’s better to have a person trained in these matters on your side, than to go it alone. If you have questions about vexatious litigants, or other legal family law issues, contact our office for more information.