Meet Benjamin Easton, who is about to officially become Wellington's vexacious litigant; the Dom-Post reports:
Wellington ratepayers have spent more than $350,000 defending doomed legal action by serial protester Benjamin Easton, sparking a rare bid to declare him a vexatious litigant.Council lawyers have written to the solicitor-general trying to block the self-proclaimed "unemployed political busker" from filing endless court proceedings and appeals.Mr Easton, 52, is a voracious litigant who has taken many court cases against the council over its Manners Mall bus route. He was nearly Tasered for wielding a sledgehammer during a 2010 central city protest. The social justice campaigner was also the central figure in a protracted anti-capitalist Occupy Wellington demonstration in Civic Square, and more recently he barricaded himself in a Housing New Zealand apartment complex to protest against the forced eviction of tenants.The move to block him from the courts is considered a "drastic restriction of civil rights" by the Law Commission and "measure of last resort".Only seven other people have been declared vexatious litigants since 1965.But the council says its bid is justified.Figures made public under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act reveal that ratepayers forked out $319,932 on legal action involving Mr Easton in 2009 and 2010 alone, with thousands more going on GST and expert witnesses.The spending related to multiple court cases trying to overturn the bus route decision, tenancy tribunal hearings after his eviction from a council flat, and Occupy Wellington legal expenses.No attempt had been made to recoup the money because "such a step was assessed as futile given the circumstances".
Mr Easton sounds like Wellington's version of Penny Bright. And this is not the first time that he has come to the public's attention. He stared down Social Development Minister Paula Bennett two years ago, and lost. We blogged this at the time:
An unemployed Wellington man who boasted he was living on the dole to run court crusades on social issues has been told to report for an immediate work test.Benjamin Easton, who has lodged an Environment Court appeal to stop Manners Mall being turned into a buses-only road, told The Dominion Post on Tuesday he was "deliberately and directly" on the dole so he could bring "the people's challenge to the courts"."It is a sacrifice, really. I am perfectly capable of earning."Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said she was "appalled" by the comments, and Work and Income officials had called Mr Easton in for an immediate work test after reading them.
Work and Income's response was quick, and Easton's benefit was stopped:
Mr Easton said after the meeting that he had no intention of looking for paid work and had not applied for any jobs since going on the dole in 2007. "I am not going to stop doing what I'm doing."Work and Income deputy chief executive Patricia Reade said all beneficiaries knew of their job-seeking obligations."This is a person who has a track record of challenging the system and by his own admission does not want a job."Social Development Minister Paula Bennett was appalled that Mr Easton had no intention of finding a job despite being on the benefit."That's simply not acceptable. It is an abuse of a welfare system designed for people in real need.
Somehow, Mr Easton has managed to carry on with his one-man campaign against the citizens of Wellington and their elected representatives, and a number of other organisations. Unfortunately, he doesn't do it very well; read on:
A letter to Crown Law from council lawyers Phillips Fox says the council has been subjected to a continuous stream of litigation from Mr Easton and aligned group The City is Ours. His pleadings were often incomprehensible with "no realistic prospect of success", the letter says.A judge had described his arguments as "convoluted, long-winded, tortuous and circuitous". He refused to accept adverse decisions, simply filing new appeals with higher authorities after each successive loss.Although the council was a main target, other defendants drawn into his many proceedings included Radio New Zealand, the Broadcasting Standards Authority, the Human Rights Commission, the Broadcasting Commission and Bank of New Zealand.He had also threatened proceedings against the New Zealand Fire Service and Environment Court, and threatened judicial complaints against several judges."The council is becoming increasingly concerned that the ratepayers of Wellington are funding the defence of Mr Easton's persistent and repetitive litigation."This is despite the fact that his proceedings have been consistently found to be without merit."
Declaring Benjamin Easton a vexacious litigant is not a decision that would be taken lightly, but Crown Law is keeping a close eye on him:
A Crown Law spokeswoman said the office was keeping a watching brief on Mr Easton and his many court proceedings, which included action this week before the Supreme Court.If satisfied he had met the threshold, Crown Law would make an application to the High Court under the Judicature Act on behalf of the attorney-general to prevent him bringing civil proceedings without the prior approval of a judge.Mr Easton told The Dominion Post he would challenge any such application and embarrass the council."I'm going to slaughter them because they're cheats."He defended his right to bring matters of public interest before the courts, but dismissed the justice system as biased and "corrupt".