Woman files 70 'free' lawsuits; lawmakers propose change - WFSB 3 Connecticut

Woman files 70 'free' lawsuits; lawmakers propose change

Cecelia Lebby Cecelia Lebby

For two years, the Channel 3 Eyewitness News I-Team has been following a New Britain woman who has filed dozens of lawsuits. She's sued everyone from Connecticut Light & Power and World Wrestling Entertainment to police departments, towns, rock bands and celebrities - all for free.

Since her story was profiled in February, she's filed more cases and the state legislature has responded. She's filed a lawsuit that sent Farmington's police chief to the state Capitol to ask for a change to the law.

If the proposed bill is passed, it would apply to everyone, but it's clearly targeted at the New Britain woman.

The piece of paper is covered in crossouts and barely legible handwriting. It can hardly be recognized as a lawsuit - except for one line - the part where it demands $2 trillion.

"There's nothing I can find here where our officers are even alleged to have done something wrong, and that's the issue that we run into," said Farmington police Chief Paul Melanson.

Melanson saw the I-Team's report on the woman who brought this lawsuit - Cecelia Lebby.

She's a force at the New Britain courthouse, filing more than 70 lawsuits against dozens of towns, companies, organizations and people. This isn't the first time she's sued the Farmington Police Department, even though Melanson said a check of records shows she's never been arrested, never been detained and barely had any interaction at all with his officers.

The I-Team was in court earlier this year as Lebby argued one of her many cases. She's never won in the courtroom, but she settled one case against World Wrestling Entertainment for $8,000.

After the I-Team's report, she's also become the focus of a push to change state law.

Because of her income, she qualifies for a fee waiver. She doesn't have to pay the $350 filing fee for each lawsuit, and the fees charged by state marshals to serve the lawsuit on the person she's suing are picked up by taxpayers.

Just in waived fees alone, she's cost the state tens of thousands of dollars, not to mention the hundreds of hours in court spent considering lawsuits that she never wins. She doesn't hire a lawyer and just represents herself.

Critics have argued she has no incentive not to sue and she's at the courthouse almost daily.

That's why Melanson was recently at the state Capitol asking lawmakers to make it harder for her to sue for free.

"I thought it was incumbent upon me, representing the town of Farmington and the taxpayers, to at least let people know, to put a name and a face to what a law could do," Melanson said.

That proposal would require people seeking a fee waiver to work up to 20 hours of community service. At the recent hearing on the proposal, Lebby was mentioned by name dozens of times.

"If we can get something from people who are filing this many lawsuits, I think it benefits the community as a whole," Melanson.

Susan Nofi-Bendici, of the New Haven Legal Assistance Association, said, "Many of our clients rely on fee waivers to get access to the courts."

Nofi-Bendici asked lawmakers to find a different way to control the few who abuse the fee waivers. Last year, her agency helped 2,500 clients with everything from child support issues to full civil lawsuits. She said for many clients, even 20 hours of community service could be too much.

"A lot of our clients are low-wage workers, and if they don't work, they don't get paid. They get paid by the hour, so that would be quite a burden on them," she said.

So the bill was changed again.

Community service was dropped, and now the new law would give judges the clear right to deny a fee waiver to people who abuse the system if their claim has no merit.

"I don't think they should be basing a law on me," Lebby said.

The I-Team went back to New Britain Superior Court this week and told Lebby that her cases may lead to a change in the law. She said she thinks the community service requirement would be unfair, but said a review by a judge is close to what happens now, and she'd be OK with that.

Plus, if she doesn't get a fee waiver, she said she'll just complain about the judge to the Judicial Review Council.

"I think they're jealous because they think I'm going to come into a lot of money after I came from the hood," Lebby said. "Like I came from rags to riches, and they think, why me and not them."

And she said she promises no matter what the legislature does, she'll be at the courthouse, filing more suits.

"I feel legit about my claims that I'm bringing, and I feel like somewhere, somehow I'm [going to] win these lawsuits," she said.

The bill has passed committee, and it is expected to get a vote before the current session ends.

Melanson said he hopes lawmakers think of his town when they decide how to vote. Each suit filed by Lebby against the department costs $5,000 to $10,000 to defend.

That's enough in his budget to pay the overtime to add extra security to community events or to fund DUI and seatbelt checkpoints all summer long.

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