High Court curtails right of appeal for Silver Spring man

January 08, 1991|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- A Silver Spring man with a passion for taking his grievances to court, including 27 challenges of a speeding ticket, became yesterday only the second person in history to have part of his appeal rights taken away by the Supreme Court.

In a ruling that split the court 6-3, the justices punished Michael Sindram by denying him at least part of his right, as a "pauper," to file appeals without paying the filing fee, and by threatening him with loss of other appeal rights.

Mr. Sindram, who swears he has no job, no money and no car, was put under strict new restraints that the justices had imposed only once before, in 1989.

The court majority lost patience with Mr. Sindram after he had gone to five different courts 27 separate times to challenge a 1987 conviction and $35 fine for speeding and had filed 42 separate pleas to the Supreme Court on that and other issues over the past three years.

In a four-page unsigned opinion, the majority said Mr. Sindram -- previously treated as a "pauper" -- would have to pay the $300 filing fee if he wanted to have his latest plea considered. Any similar pleas he files in the future also will require a $300 fee.

If he "similarly abuses" any of his other rights to file cases at the court as a "pauper," the majority warned, he may lose those privileges, too.

Complaining that Mr. Sindram had made the same pleas this time that he had "in over a dozen prior petitions," the court majority said it was "frivolous and abusive" to bring them up again.

That provoked two dissenting opinions, with three justices insisting that the majority did not even have power to do what it was doing and, besides, that its punishment was "unfair, discriminatory and petty" or sent "an unseemly message of hostility" to litigants with no money.

The dissenters were Justices Harry A. Blackmun, Thurgood Marshall and John Paul Stevens.

Mr. Sindram has qualified as a "pauper" and thus has been free of any duty to pay filing fees in several courts because he has filed affidavits saying he has no job and did not earn more than $2,600 in the last year in which he worked, as a "defense investigator" in the District of Columbia court system.

He told the court in his latest plea that he had no money, no bank account, no property -- other than an "inoperable" car -- and no investments.

Although he lists a Silver Spring apartment address and a telephone number, attempts to reach him were unsuccessful.

He had told the court he could not work "because I have been recently unconstitutionally imprisoned for an extended period of time." Records show no one by his name in Maryland state prisons or in District of Columbia prisons or jails.

While Mr. Sindram's name is quite familiar to the Supreme Court, he is personally well known at Maryland's highest court, the Court of Appeals in Annapolis.

Said a court aide there: "He is tall, Caucasian, in his mid-30s, wears glasses; sometimes he comes in in a three-piece suit, sometimes in jogging clothes. He keeps refiling things, all over."

He has lost his "pauper" status there, too. Five times since June, Alexander L. Cummings, the court clerk, has returned papers Mr. Sindram filed, telling him he must pay a $30 fee for a request for certiorari and a $50 fee for all other filings.

Clerks at the Dorchester County Courthouse in Cambridge recognized his name as they looked up the case that began when an officer stopped him in a 1985 Nissan on May 17, 1987, just outside the Cambridge city limits, eastbound near Beaver Neck Village Road.

He was tried on a charge of driving 70 miles per hour in a 55-mph zone, was convicted and fined $35.

In his latest Supreme Court appeal in that case, Mr. Sindram asked the justices to order Maryland's highest court to act on an appeal he had filed there.

It was learned yesterday that the Maryland court had thrown out his latest case a month ago.

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