The full quote, of course, is “An attorney who represents himself has a fool for a client.” It’s a cautionary aphorism that every law student learns. It’s also true for non-lawyers. And WC offers as an example of that truth Sutton, Alaska resident Mark N. Wayson.
Mr. Wayson is a former Fairbanks city police officer who, shall we say, left under a cloud. He is also a recreational litigator, a man who seems to easily and readily suffer the kinds of wrong that send him to court for a remedy. In years past, those wrongs have included, in Wayson’s view, injuries done to him by his own lawyers, by his opposition’s lawyers and even by lawyers evaluating claims Wayson has made against his lawyers.
As a result of those many claims, WC suspects he may have trouble finding a lawyer willing to represent him. In Wayson’s world, that can’t possibly be because of something Wayson has done or Wayson’s view of the world; it’s because all lawyers are in an evil alliance against him.
But since those perceived wrongs continue to pile up, he has chosen to represent himself. It’s been pretty ugly.
Most recently, the Alaska Supreme Court considered Wayson’s appeal from losing his case against William E. Stevenson. Stevenson operates a lodge and tour company that gives the visitors access to Matanuska Glacier in southcentral Alaska.1 Access to Stevenson’s business is by gravel road at Milepost 102 on the Glenn Highway. The gravel road crosses land belonging to Wayson. The road is built within an easement granted by the man who owned the land prior to Wayson; to put in legal terms, Wayson’s property is the subservient estate, made subject to an easement held by Stevenson’s property, the dominant estate.
That didn’t stop Wayson from putting up the No Trespassing sign at the top of this blog post. Or from posting another sign claiming the road was “unsafe.” That didn’t stop Wayson from forcing Stevenson to file a lawsuit to save his business. That didn’t stop Wayson from forcing his claims to trial in Alaska Superior Court.
He lost. Pretty much on all issues. It wasn’t even a very close question.
That didn’t stop Wayson from appealing the loss (and the dismissal of his counterclaims) to the Alaska Supreme Court where, as you probably expected, he lost again. The court’s opinion, authored by Justice Borghesan, meticulously dissects and rejects all of Wayson’s arguments. In a nice touch, Justice Borghesan even found a way to cite to another, earlier case Wayson had lost in the U.S. District Court, where he had sued yet another lawyer.
Among the consequences for Wayson in this near-frivolous lawsuit was an award of attorneys’ fees against Wayson and in favor of Stevenson of $50,000. – also affirmed by the Alaska Supreme Court. Wayson will also get to pay more attorneys’ fees for his loss in the Supreme Court.
The late Justice Jay Rabinowitz once said of folks like Wayson, “Every man is entitled to his day in court. The problem is that some people don’t know when to quit.” Oddly, those kinds of fee awards don’t seem to deter folks like Wayson. There are processes on the books to stop nuisance litigators, but the courts are deeply reluctant to invoke them, and they require someone to be upset enough to hire a lawyer to bring that kind of claim.
These kinds of lawsuits are a serious problem. They consume a lot of court resources, which is particularly serious with the backlog of lawsuits following the pandemic. The fee awards against folks like Wayson only partially compensate the winner. Stevenson almost certainly spent a whole lot more than $50,000 resolving Wayson’s bogus claims. Wayson may even think he “won” by forcing Stevenson to incur all those costs and fees. Wayson may think he “won” by forcing the court system through another expensive trial, because Wayson firmly believes that the court system, too, is biased against him.
Because all those losses can’t possibly be Wayson’s fault.
1 Stevenson is not uncontroversial, either. Stevenson’s Matanuska Glacier Park charges a very steep price for visitors who want to walk on the glacier. Stevenson (and his fight with Wayson) actually made it (paywalled) into the Washington Post last October.