A Boy Named Sue




What do Steve Jobs, George W. Bush, Martha Stewart, the Eiffel Tower, Pluto, and the entire Dark Ages have in common with the Roman Empire, Somali pirates, Three Mile Island, and the survivors of the Holocaust?

All have been sued by Jonathan Lee Riches.

Jonathan Lee Riches is an ex-convict who, until the spring of 2012, was serving time for wire fraud. About ten years earlier, Riches and others were part of a criminal conspiracy which used phishing techniques to obtain and then wrongfully used their targets’ financial information. Riches and his co-conspirators would send emails purporting to be from trusted sources, claiming to require personally identifying information. After the mark took the bait, Riches himself would often go to the bank with a fake ID and siphon off that person’s account. In total, his group stole well over a million dollars before they were caught. Riches was sentenced to 125 months in a medium security prison. From there, he developed a new hobby: he filed lawsuits. Lots of them, all acting as his own counsel.

At some point in early 2006, Riches set forth on his lawsuit-binge hobby. One of the first ones, according to The New Republic, was in hopes of getting some property returned. Riches demanded that the state return “23 new Playstation video games, a commemorative Super Bowl football, 66 shirts with tags, a plunger, a subwoofer, and a box of life vests,” as reported by TNR. The items, all likely ill-gotten gains from Riches’ crime sprees, were donated to Goodwill instead of returned to the convict.

Since then, Riches has sued virtually everyone, totaling over 2,500 claims. (One suspects these words may elicit a summons and complaint.) Riches openly acknowledges — in court pleadings, even — that he has significant mental health problems for which he’s thankfully receiving treatment. But his antics very well may be a calculated result of a spark of genius from a man with plenty of time on his hands. In one lawsuit against NFL quarterback Michael Vick, the judge, in dismissing the case, accused Riches of filing the lawsuits as a self-promotional tool designed to turn the ex-con into a pseudo-celebrity. To some degree, that’s worked — many, especially online, have taken to following his escapades, and he’s tried to parlay that fame into commercial success. Unfortunately, he’s also done things inexplicable — and in no way positive — as of late. Riches has for some reason associated himself with mass shootings. most recently by pretending to be the uncle of the young man responsible for the massacre at a Connecticut school in December of 2012 — violating his parole in the process.

But before this dark turn, Riches left us with perhaps the greatest capstone for his litigious career.  In 2009, the Guinness Book of World Records was going to name him as the world’s most litigious person, and in response, Riches sued. Apparently, he didn’t like the title — or that the book underestimated the number of lawsuits he had filed.


Bonus Fact: Starting in 2002, a California man named Daniel Balsam also got the lawsuit-as-hobby bug. Balsam, though, ended up going to law school and becoming a full-time litigant who is able to support himself with his once-hobby. His angle? He sues people who send spam email, and has reportedly earned over $1 million over the last decade doing so.

From the ArchivesWorld Record Record Holder: Someone has to hold the world record for holding the most world records, right? Meet that man.

Related: “Represent Yourself in Court: How to Prepare & Try a Winning Case” by Paul Bergman and Sara J. Berman. 4.4 stars on 53 reviews.