She's not licensed to practice law in any state, but Cecelia Lebby spends so much time arguing in court that she considers it "a full-time job."
Lebby's last paid position was in a doughnut shop several years ago and she relies on disability income of about $700 month to survive. But her proficiency with pen and paper has made her well-known among judges in the New Britain Judicial District, where she has filed more than 80 lawsuits and 40 appeals. Lebby insists she is just protecting her legal rights from abusive acts.
"I just don't want to be wronged by people," she said. "I figure if I filed lawsuits, they would back off."
Lebby's prolific efforts have recently led her to be identified as one of a handful of "serial litigators" in the state. Because she is legally indigent, Lebby doesn't have to pay any court filing fees, and so she files for free and files freely. But now, people like her are being targeted by some lawmakers.
A bill proposed by state Representative Timothy Bowles, D-Preston, would make poor people complete community service hours in exchange for having filing fees waived. Bowles said if a pro se knew he or she would have to put in several hours of added labor, that would cut down on the number of litigants who file 10 or 15 lawsuits a year.
Although of the total number of cases statewide filed by serial litigators isn't available, Bowles said the problem is real. "If we can close that loophole, I would be more satisfied," Bowles said. "These cases clog up the court system."
Even if his legislation doesn't pass, Bowles is hopeful that a discussion will raise possible solutions to the problem.
State Representative Gerald Fox III, co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, has agreed to at least consider the measure. "We offered to raise it for a public hearing and see what happens," Fox said. "I think there are some [legislators] who have reservations about it, but there are some who want to explore the issue."
All told, the Judicial Branch waives about $2.8 million a year in fees for hundreds of indigent people. Under state law, not only is the $350 filing fee covered, but so is the $40 cost of state marshals serving the lawsuits.