Clogging Up the Courts: Relief From Lawmakers

Serial plaintiffs are the target of new legislation that gives judges the power to crackdown on frivolous lawsuits filed across the state.
The man who proposed the idea for this bill, Wyatt Kopp, says litigants like New Britain's Cecelia Lebby are draining state and taxpayer resources.
"She's on her 83rd taxpayer funded lawsuit," said Kopp, "and there's nothing to discourage her from filing time and time again."
On most days, Lebby admits she spends several hours at the courthouse researching, writing and filing lawsuits against people and businesses all across the state who she says have done her wrong.
"I'm going to win one of them.  That means I came from rags to riches," said Lebby.
In the last 5 years, Lebby has sued the WWE, CL&P, the Farmington Police Department, even Ted Nugent for free.  Because of her income, Lebby qualifies for a fee waiver.  Since 2007, she has had more than $40,000 in court filing fees waived and tied up countless hours of court resources.
But it's taxpayers who are paying the state marshals to serve all her lawsuits, in addition to the legal fees local police departments, like Farmington, are forced to shell out to defend themselves against her handwritten lawsuits.  In the past, judges have described those suits as "illegible."
Lebby is adamant though, she's never robbed taxpayers.
"I contacted Governor Malloy and I told him that I didn't rob the taxpayer dollars.  I was given fee waivers.  It isn't like I stole them," she said outside court.
Nonetheless, it's serial filers like Lebby who got lawmakers attention.  House Bill 6692 now gives judges more discretion to deny fee waivers for applicants who have an extended pattern of frivolous filings.  It passed the House and Senate vote and is now awaiting Governor Malloy's signature.
The original bill had required those who couldn't afford the $300 filing fee in civil suits seeking damages to perform community service.  That part was removed after a public hearing however.
"There are a handful of cases and individuals in the state of Connecticut that are prone to file very contentious and numerous lawsuits in the court system.  It really clogs up the system and takes away resources that could be better used," said Rep. Timothy Bowles, the Preston lawmaker who introduced the bill.
The NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters have learned Bowles and Kopp are now being sued by one the state's serial plaintiffs.  Court documents show that lawsuit was filed days after lawmakers voted on the bill.
"I'm not surprised this happened," said Bowles, "I think it underscores the problem to some degree."
But Kopp says the lawsuit undermines his fundamental right to propose legislation to his representative.
"I'm being sued for 15 million dollars because I was supposedly defaming and labeling someone's case as frivolous," said Kopp.
But that lawsuit isn't the only fallout from this legislation.  The state's claims commissioner, J. Paul Vance Jr., is also being sued for denying fee waivers to another New Britain resident named Judith Fusari.  She has more than 136 taxpayer funded cases under her belt.  She had no comment for our story.
According to Fusari's lawsuit against Vance though, his fee waiver denials have caused her mental confusion and insanity.  She's asking for $600 million, tax-free dollars for each fee waiver denial totaling $3.6 billion dollars plus stake in all of Vance's stocks, bonds, mutual funds, properties and insurance policies.
Vance can't comment on the case but says the House Bill 6692 is a step in the right direction for the courts and can be a deterrent, though some won't be thrilled with it.
"We have a ton of claims and you can just think of it from a common sense perspective.  If those are on my desk ahead of somebody that fell down at UCONN and has a valid claim then yes, it clogs up the system because I'm only one person dealing with the docket," said Commissioner Vance.
Lebby also has dozens of cases pending at Vance's office.  But even though she was denied a fee waiver, she came up with the money to pay for the 19 claims she's filed since 2007.  According to records she's spent more than $500 on those cases.
Lebby says she's not sure if she'll sue over the new legislation, but says it's ultimately up to her to protect her rights.
"I think nobody could stop me," Lebby remarks.

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