LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A federal inmate who has filed more than 3,800 lawsuits and targeted the famous, the infamous and even the long-dead is now being sued by federal officials who want him to knock it off.
Federal prosecutors who say they have had enough of the frivolous filings have filed a lawsuit of their own asking a judge to take unusual action to stop Jonathan Lee Riches.
Since 2006, Riches has filed lawsuits in nearly every jurisdiction in the country, court documents show. The inmate who dubbed himself "Lawsuit Zeus" in one of his thousands of court cases has filed up to four of his handwritten petitions a day in Kentucky courts alone.
The 33-year-old inmate at the federal prison in Lexington has sued New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, former President George W. Bush, then-Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick and even Somali pirates. Sometimes, Riches asks for money, other times an injunction to stop alleged, if physically impossible, activity.
Among Riches' targets have been "Adolf Hitler's National Socialist Party," the ancient philosopher Plato, the celestial body formerly known as the planet Pluto and the Guinness Book of World Records.
In the Guinness case, he wanted to prevent himself from being dubbed the most litigious man in America.
"These phrases (i.e. "Patrick Ewing of Suing," ''Johnny Sue-nami," etc ...) hurt my feelings and violate my civil rights. I've filed so many law suits with my pen and right hand that I got arthritis in my fingers, numbness in my wrists, crooked fingers, I got bags under my eyes for sleepless nights suing the world," Riches wrote in Riches v. the Guinness Book of Records.
Guinness spokeswoman Sara Wilcox said the book doesn't monitor litigious people and has no records concerning Riches. Like many of his other legal claims, the lawsuit was dismissed.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Lexington calls Riches' lawsuits "a waste of judicial resources." The prosecutors' petition, filed Monday afternoon, seeks to allow the federal Bureau of Prisons to screen Riches' outgoing mail or to designate a federal court employee to determine if the legal filings are frivolous and stop the mail from being sent.
Legal mail from inmates usually is sent without a detailed inspection by prison personnel. Under the proposed injunction, any legal mail deemed legitimate would be forwarded to the appropriate court.
"We have had cases like this in the past," said Kyle Edelen, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Lexington. "Maybe not frequently, but they happen."
Bureau of Prisons officials didn't immediately respond to a request placed Tuesday to interview Riches.
Riches has been in prison nearly a decade after pleading guilty in Texas to using AOL e-mail to scam credit card numbers from online users. He's scheduled for release in March 2012.
He's passed the time behind bars suing people, places and things — some of which aren't subject to lawsuits.
Riches has also attempted to intervene as a plaintiff in the Madoff investment scandal, claiming that he "met Bernard Madoff on eharmony.com in 2001" and taught Madoff identity theft skills.
Prosecutors have said that he sometimes lifts the identity of others to file his lawsuits, such as the one attributed to al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri. In that one he sued the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, the Dave Matthews Band and Stevie Wonder in an effort to halt the Tennessee music festival because he found the music offensive.
In a lawsuit filed in Kentucky, Riches accused Bush, his brother former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and "Telephone Phreakers" of forming an alliance with al-Qaida.
"My mind is being hacked into by defendants," Riches wrote. "Defendants snuck into this prison and cloned my brain."
Dismissed again. A judge deemed it frivolous.
U.S. District Judge Patricia Fawcett in Orlando, Fla., in an opinion joined by four other judges, barred Riches from any more filings in her jurisdiction.
"Riches' vexatious filings waste court employees' time and interfere with the rights of honest people with legitimate grievances," Fawcett wrote in August 2008.
Riches responded with a flurry of filings in other federal courts, including the bankruptcy court in Florida.