- Associated Press - Thursday, October 2, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - An Indianapolis man who has filed more than 120 lawsuits since 2008 got a stern message this week from the Indiana Supreme Court.

Enough’s enough, the justices told Gersh Zavodnik.

The state’s high court, in an order issued Tuesday, called Zavodnik “a prolific, abusive litigant” and put him on notice. In the unanimous ruling, the five justices warned the Ukraine-born U.S. citizen that he “can expect any further abusive litigation practices … to be met with appropriate sanctions and restrictions.”

Zavodnik could face fines, criminal charges or a prohibition on filing new lawsuits unless he is in “immediate danger of bodily injury,” the justices warned.

The Supreme Court also issued guidance to judges “confronted with abusive and vexatious litigation practices,” particularly on the part of non-attorneys attempting to represent themselves.

Zavodnik is not a lawyer but acts as his own attorney in the majority of the cases, according to The Indianapolis Star (https://indy.st/Zv8YcW ). His lack of understanding of the law and court procedures, the high court said, creates myriad problems. And that is compounded by his prolific, persistent nature.

Court records show Zavodnik has filed at least 123 civil lawsuits in Marion and surrounding counties since 2008. Most revolve around Internet sales and purchases gone bad.

He also is a party to 34 cases before the Indiana Court of Appeals, including 23 requesting the appointment of special judges to hear his complaints because of previous tiffs with the judges handling those cases.

Zavodnik came to the U.S. in 1987 under a grant of political asylum. After settling in Indiana, he earned a college degree and became a U.S. citizen. In an interview with The Star last year, Zavodnik said he is trained as a photographer and illustrator, but most of his time is now consumed by his lawsuits and legal fights.

“I cannot go and beat people on the knees like they did back in Russia,” he said. “These people stole from us. I come (to the court) for justice.”

In 2012, however, the Court of Appeals described Zavodnik as someone who “attempts to make his living by filing lawsuits.”

Zavodnik objected to that claim in The Star interview, but the Supreme Court found - as had other lower courts before it - that many of his claims and motions are legally “defective, repetitive and lacking merit.”

That included his plea for the high court to take up an appeal of a Marion County judge’s ruling that dismissed one of Zavodnik’s lawsuits. His request for a review, the order noted, did not give justices any indication of the nature of his complaint against the defendant.

Zavodnik told The Star today that he disagrees with the opinion and added, “I am not going to change my ways.”

“Everything in that opinion is a lie,” he said. “There is nothing I can do about it because the whole game isn’t fair. They’ve pretty much closed the door to courts to me in this state. Where can I go now where a judge will not (mistreat) me?”

A frequent target of Zavodnik’s legal and personal attacks said he was happy to see the Supreme Court take a strong stand.

“I am very pleased to see the court stand up and do the right thing,” said Indianapolis attorney Chad Wuertz, who has represented several clients targeted by Zavodnik’s lawsuits.

“I’ve been telling judges from county to county to county the same thing about this guy. The judges are tired of dealing with this.”

Wuertz said any attorney who acted the way Zavodnik has in court would have faced serious sanctions.

“You want to give everybody their day in court,” he explained, “but he wants his day, the next week, the week after that and next month.”

Wuertz added Zavodnik may have landed a spot in Indiana legal history thanks to this week’s ruling.

“This is a case that will be cited in other opinions for years to come,” he predicted. “Gersh is not the only person that goes out there and does this crazy stuff.”

In the order turning down Zavodnik’s request for an appeal, the high court said Zavodnik has done nothing that “shows any desire to litigate this case expeditiously to resolution on the merits,” the justices said.

“Rather, he has burdened the opposing party and the courts of this state at every level with massive, confusing, disorganized, defective, repetitive and often meritless filings. And this Court has previously warned Mr. Zavodnik against continuing such abusive and burdensome litigation tactics.”

One example, the court noted, is Zavodnik’s penchant for making filings under often “bewilderingly lengthy titles” such as:

“Appellant’s Verified Motion to Compel the Clerk of the Trial Court to Provide the Entire Record as Opposed to the Partial Record and to Extend Time for Brief to Be Filed Due to the Fact that the Appellant Does Not Have the Full Certified Record and the Record Needs to Be Complete and Fixed (Which Will Require Time) Because of the Clerk’s Error in Providing Only a Partial Record or Alternatively to Relinquish Jurisdiction Back to the Trial Court by Mandating It to Fix the Record (the CCS) and to Provide the Court of Appeals and the Parties with the Corrected Full and Complete Fixed Record or Alternatively to Order the Clerk of this Court to Fix the CCS and to Provide the Complete Record or Alternatively to Allow the Appellant to Use His Own CCS Printed out by Him from the Odyssey Website.”

The rambling titles burden court personnel and opposing parties and other attorneys, who must struggle with Zavodnik’s filings.

“How do you even know what he is talking about?” offered Wuertz. “I got to the place that I would respond with a motion asking for a more definitive statement. I would tell the judge ‘I really don’t know what this says.’”

This week’s order said the Supreme Court “as a matter of grace” will not impose sanctions against Zavodnik.

“But we will provide the courts of this state with guidance on options available to sanction and otherwise restrict the abusive and burdensome litigation tactics practiced by Mr. Zavodnik and a small number of other litigants in this state,” the order said.

The justices cited a “three strikes statute” which prohibits offenders who’ve had three lawsuits dismissed from filing a new complaint “unless they are in immediate danger of bodily injury.” The order also notes courts may assess fines and other sanctions “to those engaging in abusive tactics.”

The justices also addressed Zavodnik’s claim that the system is unfairly biased against him. The fact that Zavodnik is not an attorney, and instead acts as a pro se litigant, the justices explained, does not mean he does not have to follow the same rules and procedures as attorneys.

“One acting pro se has no license to harass others, clog the judicial machinery with meritless litigation, and abuse already overloaded court dockets. … Even if a court may take reasonable steps to prevent a good faith pro se litigant from being placed at an unfair disadvantage, an abusive litigant can expect no latitude,” the order says.

“Contrary to Mr. Zavodnik’s arguments, the system actually imposes more restrictions on represented parties, at least indirectly through regulation of their attorneys.”

For instance, the order explained “an attorney may be sanctioned for a willful violation of the rule that an attorney’s signature on a pleading constitutes a certificate that the attorney has read the pleading; that to the best of the attorney’s knowledge, information, and belief, there is good ground to support it; and that it is not interposed for delay.”

The court added that attorneys may be disciplined for abusive litigation practices.

“Because these rules have no application to pro se litigants,” the order said, “it is all the more important that courts be able to fashion appropriate sanctions for abusive pro se litigants.”

___

Information from: The Indianapolis Star, https://www.indystar.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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