Like any other profession, law is practiced by both zealots and goof-offs, overachievers and slackers, crusty experts and inexperienced novices. But it is safe to say that within the diverse legal circles of South Florida there are no practitioners who come close to the relentless fecundity of pro se litigant Alfredo F. de Castro. Plaintiff par excellence, de Castro lifts the mundane act of filing a lawsuit to the level of performance art.
According to court records, de Castro has filed at least 117 lawsuits in federal court since 1993. By his own count, he has filed more than 180 legal actions in both federal and state court. He has sued various government agencies, including the Federal Communications Commission, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon, Dade County, the City of Los Angeles, the City of New York, the City of San Francisco, the Florida Highway Patrol, the Hialeah Police Department, the Dade County Public Defender, and the Dade State Attorney.
He has sued his parents six times, the president of the United States twice, the governor of Florida, a U.S. district judge, and his psychiatrist. He has requested legal action against musicians: the Rolling Stones, Prince, Guns N' Roses, Rod Stewart, Metallica, Smashing Pumpkins, and Alanis Morissette. He has energetically sought damages from celebrities: Steven Spielberg, Michael Jackson, Andy Garcia, Sharon Stone, Al Pacino, and Madonna. And he has repeatedly filed against New York developer Donald Trump and former professional basketball stars Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Julius Erving. De Castro has also sued United Artists, Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox, MGM Studios, and Warner Bros. Other targets include New Times and the Miami Herald, along with most local television stations.
A tall, medium-proportioned man who makes periodic appearances in the first-floor offices of the U.S. District Court on North Miami Avenue, de Castro is described by clerks as neat, clean, and balding, his longish hair gathered in a ponytail and topped by a baseball cap. Clerks say he usually wears sneakers and a sport shirt and politely engages in coherent conversation while filing his multitudinous actions.
The 41-year-old man has not worked since 1992 and, according to his own court filings, survives on $555 monthly disbursements from Social Security. His address is unknown. The Miami Beach apartment listed as his home in court papers traces back to a post office box at a Laundromat.
De Castro did not respond to New Times's written request for an interview. But a spate of more than 50 handwritten lawsuits filed in October painstakingly details his perceived victimization by the rich and the celebrated, as well as by faceless representatives of municipal and state government.
Not one to meekly submit to disrespect, de Castro fired his opening salvo of ten lawsuits on October 23, seeking punitive damages ranging from one to three million dollars, criminal investigations, and polygraph examinations. The suits stand out from others in district court for their unorthodox spelling and innovative legal theories. For example, in his effort to expose wanton abuse, de Castro cites the "Federal Torcher Act," cleverly punning on the existence of torture and the need to shine a light on the alleged misdeeds of the cultural and governmental elite. He also refers to the federal RICO statute, which prohibits racketeering and other cirrupt activities, as "Ricoh," which is an international electronics firm.
His lawsuits include:
*Alfredo F. de Castro v. Miami Beach Visitor and Convention Authority. "Plaintiff pro-se states that above organization has been using tourists by the thousands on the streets of Miami Beach to try to heat plaintiff into a heart seizure or suicide knowing that he has both a heart condition and a psychological condition. They also know that in combination with this that the U.S. government is using electrical warfare on plaintiff to create heart problems. Violation of 1st and 8th ammendments & Ricoh Act & Federal Torcher Act which under new federal guidelines is one of 60 new punishable by death offenses."
*Alfredo F. de Castro v. Lawton Chiles, Governor. "Plaintiff pro-se states that Governor Chiles knows and has allowed for thousands of armies to be thrown on the streets of Miami against plaintiff as part of a political extermination plot with and including violation of every aspect of the Constitution of the United States including mental and physical torcher."
*Alfredo F. de Castro v. State of Florida Dept. of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. "Plaintiff pro-se states that director and staff of above department are participating in a conspiracy against plaintiff in which thousands of cars are thrown at plaintiff to block his way and induce tension and they are being bribed while knowing that HAARP Electro Magnetic radio waves are zeroing in on plaintiff from an air force facility in Alaska. Violation of 8th Ammendment & Ricoh Act & Federal Torcher Act."
*Alfredo F. de Castro v. City of Miami Beach Police Dept. "Plaintiff pro-se states that despite repeated attempts to inform this police department about violations against his freedom of movement (United Nations Article) by thousands of armies on foot and on car they refuse to take control of the streets and do their appointed duty to maintain order equally because they are being bribed not to [in] violation of the Ricoh Act & Federal Torcher Act."
*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.
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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.