Michael J. Sindram needs few introductions in the area's courthouses: He sues judges.
"You have sued me 25 times," Montgomery District Court Judge James L. Ryan told Sindram at a bond hearing last month. "You have sued every judge in every local jurisdiction so many times that all of the judges in Virginia have recused themselves."
At the slightest provocation, Sindram, a self-employed investigator for defense lawyers, fires off legal missives from his Sears SR 1000 electric typewriter. Last year, he filed 29 petitions or appeals in Montgomery County Circuit Court, 12 more than his 1989 record. U.S. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, for example, was among 19 defendants named in a civil suit seeking to expunge criminal records.
Sometimes Sindram's "fight against the power," as he calls it, comes in waves. Last September, Sindram, 33, filed four jury trial requests on the same day. One claim sought $125,000 for damages to his car caused by an "uncovered and unattended" pothole in Silver Spring.
Sindram's proclivity for filing suits causes considerable grumbling. As Geoffrey Garinther, an assistant U.S. attorney in Baltimore, put it: "He pulls so many people into these things. It's a tremendous drain on society. They are entirely without merit."
Sindram's fame reached new heights last month. For only the second time in its history, the U.S. Supreme Court said it would no longer accept "pauper" petitions from a particular individual. Calling his filings "repetitious and frivolous," the justices in a 6 to 3 vote ordered Sindram to pay the normal $300 filing fee for future petitions.
Sindram responded by filing a motion for reconsideration of the ruling, without the filing fee.
"I've had the highest court in the land come down and say something, even if they did so in a fit of pique," he said. "Their opinion is not well grounded in fact or law.
"I'm not an ambulance chaser," he added in a recent interview at his Silver Spring apartment. "I'm not going out here to stick anybody. I'm always happy to receive something as opposed to nothing."
The Supreme Court is not alone in trying to deter Sindram's litigiousness. The Maryland Court of Appeals in Annapolis recently returned a batch of petitions to Sindram, ordering him to pay the $30 filing fees, said Chief Deputy Clerk Robert Franke.
According to several court petitions, Sindram is paid less than $3,000 a year and cannot afford to pay court filing fees. The loss of free filing privileges "sets a dangerous precedent" for people who cannot afford lawyers, he said.
Sindram's independent streak began to show at age 14, when he left his parents' home in Rochester, N.Y. He later served in the Army and attended college for two years before moving to the Washington area about 10 years ago.
Sindram, who filters the water and air at his home, said he is driven by a need to be in control of his life. "I have a right, a constitutional right, to know what goes into my body, what goes on my body and what surrounds me in terms of my character, my integrity. And legal affairs deal with integrity."
Sindram decided to take control in the courtroom in 1982 after his lawyer's illness resulted in dismissal of Sindram's false-arrest complaint. Sindram said he vowed it would not happen again.
A former nightclub bouncer, Sindram said he has honed his legal skills in part by talking with felons, "who have a good understanding of the system."
Not even Sindram knows exactly how many lawsuits he has filed over the years. "Many, many squirrels have been put out of their homes, unfortunately, for my filing papers," he said.
Sindram said with confidence that "any argument I go before the court with is persuasive," adding that he is batting slightly under .500 in the courts.
He has been jailed several times -- "97 days during one stretch" -- in his courthouse battles. When the Supreme Court rebuked Sindram, he was in jail in Montgomery County on a fugitive warrant in connection with a 1987 charge of practicing law without a license in Alexandria. He was released on personal bond and the case is pending.
With a little luck and continued persistence, Sindram hopes one of his causes will make him more than a footnote in legal history. His hero is Clarence Gideon, an indigent Floridian whose case resulted in the landmark 1963 ruling requiring states to provide legal representation for the poor.
"I might not be a member of the cult of the robe," Sindram said, "but I have a mind, I can think. At least listen to me; I may have something to say. If you cut it out altogether, as in Gideon, we may never find the truth."