Official: Bogus lawsuit filed in name of Giffords' shooter

AP News
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Posted: Mar 25, 2016 4:03 AM
Official: Bogus lawsuit filed in name of Giffords' shooter

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Two bogus lawsuits that raised eyebrows for their claims— including that Tucson shooter Jared Lee Loughner was framed— are being separately investigated by federal authorities.

Federal authorities are investigating the phony lawsuit filed in the name of the man who shot former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords and 18 others in Tucson five years ago, along with one filed in the name of an Uber driver charged with killing six people in a shooting rampage this year.

The U.S. Marshals Service is looking into whether a crime occurred when someone pretending to be Loughner filed the suit by mailing to a federal courthouse in Phoenix from Philadelphia last week. It's unclear whether authorities have a suspect in mind, but Marshals spokesman David Gonzales in Arizona said he wasn't aware of a connection between the two cases.

Meanwhile, a federal court judge has officially dismissed the Loughner case after it became clear that it was fraudulently filed, according to Brian Karth, the clerk for the U.S. District Court-District of Arizona.

The faux lawsuit resembles one that was filed in the name of an Uber driver charged with killing six people in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Both lawsuits were postmarked in Philadelphia and were filed within days of each other. Dalton is being held in Michigan; Loughner is in Minnesota.

Loughner fatally shot six people and wounded 13 at a political event in Tucson on Jan. 8, 2011. Giffords, the target of the attack, was seriously injured. Her spokesman says she is not commenting on the fake lawsuit.

The convicted killer's attorneys notified the court that he didn't file or authorize the case, said Cosme Lopez, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Arizona.

"It's our understanding that the lawsuit was not filed or authorized by Mr. Loughner. Earlier (Thursday), Mr. Loughner's counsel wrote a letter to the Court confirming this understanding. Instead, it appears that a third party may have misappropriated Mr. Loughner's identity for purposes of filing the lawsuit. Federal criminal law prohibits such conduct," Lopez said in an email.

The Associated Press could not reach an attorney for Loughner.

Federal lawsuits can be filed in person or by mail. Staff attorneys sort through new filings and send them to a judge, who either dismisses them or assigns them to another judge.

Karth said it's common for inmates to file lawsuits and that the process to file a suit is relatively easy.

In Detroit, the U.S. Marshals Service is investigating whether a crime occurred when a handwritten lawsuit was filed March 15 in Dalton's name, federal court spokesman Rod Hansen said.

The hoax lawsuit named Uber as a defendant. Jason Dalton was listed as the plaintiff.

Hansen said court employees don't inspect lawsuits to determine what's legitimate.

"Who are we going to appoint to decide if it's real or not real?" he said. "By law, we have to accept it."

A lawsuit is docketed in court even if a $400 filing fee is not immediately paid. But the case typically is dismissed if the filer doesn't respond to a formal request for money, Hansen said.

"That's usually when we'll catch" a hoax or bogus case, he said.

In the Michigan case, authorities say that between picking up Uber fares, Dalton opened fire on people at three locations, and that he didn't know any of the victims.

According to police, Dalton told investigators that "a devil figure" on Uber's app was controlling him.

Reporter Ed White contributed from Detroit.