For years, self-described public-interest litigator Burton Wolfe has bragged that he was one of the few people to get off the state's so-called vexatious litigant list for self-represented plaintiffs who file frivolous lawsuits. Those who are put on the list can file "pro per," or do-it-yourself, lawsuits only with a judge's permission. But after enjoying a few years off the blacklist, the 75-year-old Wolfe has sued his way back onto the roster and is now being threatened with eviction from his apartment for, among other things, "repeatedly threatening baseless litigation."
Wolfe originally got branded in 1992 after multiple unsuccessful lawsuits against taxi companies in the 1980s and '90s. Wolfe says he persuaded a judge to remove him from the list in 1999 by promising to lay off the cab companies.
Wolfe continued on his merry suing way — "I just don't like injustice of any kind," he explains — with a case against Kodak for losing his film, another against Johnson & Johnson and a subsidiary for not warning a dietary supplement could cause an upset stomach, and others against the California Culinary Academy next door and a community center down the street for making too much damn noise. In 2004, he even got a federal judge to review the constitutionality of the vexatious-litigant statute on the basis that, among other allegations, the Constitution guarantees the right to redress of grievances. The statute won, but Wolfe didn't take the hint.
Afterward, he sued the San Francisco Food Bank and America's Second Harvest for setting up what he calls a food "racket" in the privately owned low-income senior-housing Eastern Park Apartments where he lives. Wolfe accused them of monopolizing the dining room while distributing boxes of "unhealthy" food each month to people who don't live there. The attorneys for the defendants successfully moved to put Wolfe back on the vexatious blacklist in 2006.
Wolfe says he's fed up with the legal system, preferring to now pour his rants into his political e-newsletter, "Bay Area Haloo," and his recent book, The Case Against "Jesus." But he still has at least one more court battle left — this time as a defendant. Wolfe is fighting eviction from his building for allegedly harassing management and neighbors with potential lawsuits and "making threats of violence." Wolfe wrote a letter last year complaining about the "endless, maddening noise," saying that he had reached "the breaking point, to the extent I fantasize blowing up" the building's machinery that produces the drone. For good measure, he said that he'd hang the people responsible for the racket in Union Square. (Wolfe says the fantasy was just a rhetorical device.)
For this case, Wolfe has hired an attorney to represent him. That's probably a good idea.