By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
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*Alfredo F. de Castro v. Madonna. "Plaintiff pro-se states that above singer is disrespecting and participating in a conspiracy carried out by homosexuals and prostitutes against the plaintiff and his wife because they are monogamous heterosexual romantics in violation of 8th Ammendment & Ricoh Act & FCC Regulations."
Upon filing with the court, de Castro's lawsuits are treated like any other. They are stamped by the clerk's office, given a case number, neatly fastened into a binder, and assigned to a judge. The files are then shuttled off to a magistrate for preliminary review.
"We have no choice," shrugs Warren Condon, one of the clerks. "We're a government agency. We have to serve the public, and he's a member of the public."
Although magistrates generally recommend that de Castro's cases be dismissed as frivolous, and some cases are immediately thrown out by federal judges, a few lawsuits have been allowed to wend through the system. At least six cases are currently pending, including actions against Sylvester Stallone, McDonald's, the Florida Highway Patrol, and the Dollar Store. None has made it to trial.
The existence of the cases confounds Magistrate Linnea Johnson, who points to an order signed by Judge Ursula Ungaro-Benages in February 1994 forbidding de Castro to file further lawsuits without approval of the court. "Since that time Plaintiff has filed at least 77 more frivolous complaints!" Johnson writes in a report dated November 21, 1996, recommending the dismissal of two additional cases filed against the rock band Bush and Walgreens on November 8, 1996. (De Castro alleged the musical group was conspiring against him because of his status as a "Cuban heterosexual romantic" and charged the drugstore with purposely slowing down checkout lines to see if he would explode and get arrested.)
"Plaintiff has demonstrated that he cannot file a valid complaint," Johnson observes. "He has filed civil rights and other federal claims for the silliest of reasons. His actions have caused the waste of valuable judicial resources and [caused] private litigants to expend funds defending against baseless claims."
Yvonne Cedeno, operations supervisor for intake and records at the district court, says she had never seen Ungaro-Benages's order before she was shown a copy by a New Times reporter. "We'll probably need some clarification," she adds after giving it a quick read. "We can't just accept it verbatim like that. We need to investigate it and make sure it applies to everything and not just one particular case. He has the right to file cases."
De Castro himself realizes that his claims might appear farfetched, but he is not about to let one excessively punctilious federal judge thwart his quest for justice. In a motion directed to Judge Ungaro-Benages, filed ten days after her order barring further lawsuits, de Castro graciously writes: "If this court finds it incredible in the light that it knows plaintiff is pro se and indigent and has a mental and criminal history, plaintiff understands and is willing to give this court all the time it needs to give plaintiff pro se his legal right to a day in court.