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Dealing with a vexatious litigant

Your ex filed a restraining order. You hired an attorney, kept your records, toed the line, and protected your reputation. During the 30 days in which the temporary order was in effect, she falsely claimed you violated it. When the judge denied the restraining order, the violation case was dropped.

It should have been over. You proved you hadn't done what she said you did. You proved you weren't an abuser. She lied, end of story. The abuse advocates can go focus on an actual victim. You can get back to your life, and she can stay out of it.

Except, maybe not. Maybe she has the advocates convinced. Maybe she's more determined than that. Next thing you know, there's another temporary restraining order, and another court date, or a plethora of frivolous claims and motions. Other false charges are filed. You face civil action involving your possessions, legal attacks on your family and friends, or even physical stalking.  
Dealing with a vexatious litigant can be like falling down Alice's rabbit hole. You never expect things to get this weird. You never expect the court system to be that easy for someone to manipulate. Victims of malicious prosecution are often blindsided by the attack. How could anyone possibly be prepared for an onslaught of false allegations and frivolous complaints? You can't. If you were, you'd be the most paranoid guy in the world.  
 
So now what do you do? Now that you know someone is using the legal system to harass you, how do you defend yourself?  
 
First, if you didn't all ready have assistance from an attorney, start looking. There is no way to defend against a vexatious litigant without an expert in the local court system and the law. You will have things thrown at you that you have never heard of, ridiculous allegations made which would never be accepted outside of an alleged domestic abuse case, and roadblocks put into your path that will boggle your mind.

You'll be told that behavior the court is accepting from her is unacceptable from you because you're the abuser, even after it has been conclusively proved that you are not.

Concessions which have been made for her will not be made for you, on that same basis.

As the ordeal progresses, allegations against you that have been struck down in court will be used as evidence against you in hearings on future allegations, future restraining orders, and even unrelated matters like child support and property division. She may try to claim her harassment of you as a reason why the court should alter any custody agreement you have or are negotiating, on the basis that the home environment created by the stress is disruptive to and unhealthy  for the children's development. Yes, that means she'll be arguing that because she's abusing you, the court should deny your parental rights in favor of her to protect the kids from feeling the fallout of the wrath she's bringing down on your head. No, the court won't see it that way, sometimes even when it's pointed out... especially if it's pointed out by a defendant representing himself.

Without an attorney to represent your interests, you will be toast.

What can I do to protect myself?

Outside of the courtroom, you need to live defensively. However you are going to fight this, damage control is your first priority. Your initial goal is to prevent your ex from obtaining a wrongful domestic abuse conviction against you.

Be Paranoid 
Turn the things you did to protect yourself from vulnerability to false allegations during the time when the original temporary restraining order was in effect into your regular lifestyle. As the saying goes, it's not paranoia if they really are out to get you. Document everything, your whereabouts and activities, your witnesses, your possessions, anything unusual that happens to you or around your home, any harassment of you by your ex, any harassment of  your friends and family. Keep your whereabouts documentation journal thoroughly and punctually updated. Don't miss even a single event.   

Be Thorough
Once you suspect that you are dealing with habitual malicious prosecution (the first or second time there's a false allegation should be enough) you should start keeping a second, separate "experiences" journal. Unlike the whereabouts documentation journal, this one is for the impact that the harassment is having on your life. This journal is not for your defense against allegations. It will not help to prove that you are innocent of crimes against your abuser. This is your evidence in case you have to take legal action to make your abuser stop harassing you.

In this journal, record your description of your experiences, and how you feel about them. This can be as complex or simple as you want, but it should include accurate, honest details of what happened (as in papers served, arrest, court date, phone call, instances of being treated differently at work or by neighbors because of your ordeal, etc.,) who was involved, when and where it took place, and the results of the event; how others involved (family, friends, witnesses) reacted, and how you feel about the event and the responses. Included in your entries should be documentation of:
  • Effects on your physical and mental health, such as if you have developed stress-related health symptoms (things like nausea, dizziness, headache, excessive sweating, elevated heart rate, shaking, difficulty or rapid breathing,) if an existing medical condition has been significantly worsened by stress associated with the ordeal, or if you have suffered depression or anxiety requiring medical treatment as a result of the ordeal. (This is also where your medical documentation comes in.)
  • Effects on your relationships, loss of friends, loss of contact due to decreased availability, if there was parental alienation taking place, and if there was conflict in your household as a result of challenges created by your ordeal, and how that is new or different from your normal home life.
  • Impact to your reputation in your neighborhood, among your social groups, at work, school, and church, and in any other area of your regular life. 
  • How the drain on your time and resources has affected your work (job performance, focus and concentration, attendance.)
  • Satellite effects - ways that your need for defense against malicious prosecution has affected others around you; stress, time and resource drain, any conflict or damage to reputation, interference with work.
  • Your emotional responses to events, even if all you can do is state simply whether you are angry, hurt, embarrassed, or afraid (and if so, what you fear.) Even if you are not normally demonstrative or communicative or even honest about your feelings, it's very important that you are in this journal. The designation of behavior of harassment partly depends on how harassed the victim feels, even when other significant, measurable effects on his life can be cited as evidence.

Be Protected
Do not give your ex an opening to force escalation of the situation. Avoid going out alone. Avoid going anywhere secluded. If she comes to your residence or approaches you at work, don't let her get near you, even if you have to lock yourself in or vacate the premises. If an approach is attempted, call emergency services and clearly state what is going on - that your ex is pursuing you against your will, that she has a restraining order against you, and that you want the attempt at forced contact halted. Do not be stoic about this. If she is being loud and/or aggressive, say so. If she is carrying a weapon, say so. If you are afraid, say so.
Do not fight back. Only run away. Being bigger and stronger might protect you against another guy, but you are essentially not allowed to defend yourself in this situation. Anything you do to prevent her actions, even though she is the aggressor, will be considered domestic abuse. Even if that were not the case, being big and strong is trumped by having firearms and other weapons to which she might have access. Don't let social expectations and stupid catch phrases like "man up" pressure you into putting yourself at risk of being shot, stabbed, electrocuted, or sprayed with chemicals.

Be Organized
Get a thick, 3-ring binder, a 3-hole punch, and dividers. Keep every piece of paper even remotely related to your case in that notebook, except for the receipts you are organizing in the coupon organizer (because they are small.) When an allegation is made about a time for which a receipt contributes to your alibi, copy that receipt and place the copy with the related paperwork in your binder.

Get a ream of notebook paper for notes you need to keep related to allegations or incidents, so that you can place the notes with the correct paper. This can be anything from lists of items or your own observations and arguments to witness's statements (try to get these signed and dated.)

If you have to seek medical attention for stress-related illness or injury due to the effects of your ex harassing you, keep evidence of that. Get statements from your doctor(s), and keep copies of all of your bills.

If there are other losses (property, job opportunities, impact on the health of family members, or personal connections) document those, as well. Keep records of every cost involved with defending against anything your ex has done, and of any witness impressions involved in that.

Get or make prints of photographic evidence related to any allegation. Put them with the paperwork for that allegation in your binder. Until any given allegation is resolved, pin all of the paperwork related to it together with a paperclip for quick and easy location and reference.

For court purposes, you might want to clip or otherwise divide all incidents you want to reference, and place a prominent, easy to read label on each one so that you can find them all quickly.

Be able to, on the fly, locate and offer any of the information related to any specific incident or allegation involved in your case. Note in your daily journal when you receive any paperwork, who brought it (or how you received it), and any other related information (such as if it took four police officers to deliver notice of a restraining order, or if threats were made or mail appears tampered with, or if items in your possession during an arrest were not recorded and returned to you by police upon your release, or if any of the arresting officers is related to your ex, etc.) Having the dates and times of incidents of note cross-referenced in your journal can help to drive home that these things happened as you are describing them, even when there are no other witnesses. Also, you never know in the beginning which behaviors and attitudes are going to become a pattern, so it is best to note everything.

Courtroom activity does not leave even extra seconds to go digging for your evidence. Judges and juries appreciate you not having to do that, and can be biased against individuals who are disorganized and time consuming. Also, if you dig for too long, it is possible that a judge will assume you are delaying instead of offering evidence, and deny you the chance to present it.

What can I do to stop this?

Legal action can be taken against a vexatious litigant, but first, you have to put up with being harassed long enough for her to establish a pattern. Maintain a holding pattern of legal and circumstantial self-defense, keeping your documentation current, plentiful, and organized.

If your ex violates the law, keep a record of that. Talk to your lawyer about your recourse related to perjury and false charges, witness tampering, and other forms of legal manipulation. If the behavior is habitual but not affecting the results (not resulting in court judgements against you,) allow the ex to repeat her offenses several times so that you can point to the pattern. Then, file whatever complaints and charges the law allows, but only where you can prove both violation and damages. For instance, it might be perjury if your ex falsely claims to have proof that you are involved in a sexual relationship with a witness, but you won't be able to prove that you are not. Even if you could, it is not a damaging lie that the court would consider to be an obstruction of justice. It is not worth prosecuting over that. However, if your ex states that you were at location A at Time o'clock on Day-Month-Year, and you can conclusively prove that you were actually at location B instead during that time and date, that is provable, and placing the defendant at the scene of the crime has a significant effect on a case, so it is worth insisting on prosecution.

Once you are able to point to an established pattern of harassment and/or malicious prosecution, you may have some legal recourse. Talk to your attorney about your state's laws, and which direction your legal action should take. You might prosecute for harassment, filing a simple restraining order, if your ex's actions are dominated by physical or cyber stalking, harassing of your associates, or slander. If her main means of harassing you is the use of the legal system, you may be able to file a civil complaint. Many states have laws protecting citizens from malicious prosecution. You may be able to have your ex legally prevented from taking any more court action, civil or criminal, against you without a judge's permission. To this end, discuss with your attorney filing a civil action against your ex for vexatious litigation or malicious prosecution.

This is where you will need that documentation more than ever, and why you should keep everything, from the most benign notices (change of date, change of venue, etc., ) to every false charge and all motions and claims filed. Evidence in favor of a vexatious litigation or malicious prosecution suit is the legal activity of the litigant who has been harassing you, and your documentation of the negative impact it has had on your life. This is not limited to the simple fact of time and financial resources spent on your defense. You'll want to include the entire impact. You'll need your experiences journal in addition to your whereabouts documentation journal.

The more information and evidence you have, the better your chances of winning that case.








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