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Fifteen years ago, Bob Dylan met amateur guitarist James Damiano in a dark, rain-soaked parking lot outside a concert theater in Jones Beach, N.Y. The storied singer had just left the stage and was about to get on his tour bus when Damiano slipped through an unlocked gate to intercept him, the fan claims. Damiano handed Dylan’s bus driver a package, and was so nervous that he managed to utter only seven words to the star: “Tony Tiller, Tony Tiller at CBS Records.” Dylan said nothing. The meeting lasted only a few seconds. “Dylan nodded to me, turned around and walked back to the bus,” Damiano says. “The door shut and the bus drove away.” That meeting, the contents of the package and the meaning of Damiano’s seven words have since spurred eight years of litigation in Newark, N.J., federal district court. Damiano claims that the package contained songs he wrote for Dylan on the recommendation of Tiller, a CBS Records producer, and that Dylan turned those songs into hits and neither credited nor paid him. Specifically, Damiano claims that several Dylan songs, including “God Knows,” “Disease of Conceit,” “Most of the Time” and “Dignity” — the latter was on Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. 3 — were written by him. The most interesting aspect of the case, however, is not the tantalizing notion that Dylan may have stolen some of his best work — Judge Jerome Simandle ruled Damiano’s claim bogus in 1996, noting that the songs “just don’t sound alike” — rather, it is the question of why the case is still going on after all this time. The case has been closed and reopened three times. Almost every ruling on every motion has gone against Damiano, and his appeal was turned back by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals five years ago. Nonetheless, Simandle is considering new reconsideration briefs from Damiano and Dylan on whether the litigation should continue — the third set of such motions in the life of the case. In fact, the saga of Damiano v. Sony Music and Bob Dylan, No. 95-4795, is mostly about the ability of a pro se plaintiff to keep the object of his obsession tied up in court seemingly indefinitely, despite a meritless complaint. “Every circuit has what they call frequent filers,” says Prof. Ira Robbins of American University Washington College of Law, a former pro se law clerk at the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. “They can bog down the court.” Paul Thompson, a former Essex County presiding civil judge and now of counsel to Tompkins, McGuire, Wachenfeld & Barry in Newark, agrees, noting, “Ultimately they go away, but not without a great deal of difficulty.” BAD COMPANY Back in 1995, when Damiano filed his initial complaint, it could have been an open-and-shut case. Damiano had to prove only three things: that Dylan had access to Damiano’s songs prior to publishing; that the recorded songs were similar to Damiano’s; and that Damiano’s original material was copyrighted. On its face, the complaint seemed plausible. It listed the similar lyrics of both men. It provided a detailed timeline of alleged meetings between Damiano and Dylan’s associates, including occasions when songs were handed to his record company. It also contained a transcript of an expert’s analysis of Damiano and Dylan’s songs, which concluded that the two are similar. Indeed, three months after the complaint was filed, Damiano won his claim by default when Dylan failed to answer. It was a short-lived win. It was also the last. It turned out that neither Sony nor Dylan had been served with papers; they had no idea they were being sued. The default was quickly overturned. Failing to serve the defendants was not Damiano’s first mistake. That occurred before he even got near the courthouse. Damiano retained litigation pit bull Steven Kramer of Steven Kramer & Associates in New York to write the complaint. In 1991, Kramer’s reputation was riding high. He won $239.4 million in an antitrust case, followed the next year by a $61.5 million verdict in a similar action, two of the largest awards New Jersey had ever seen. He was widely regarded as an eccentric, intense trial lawyer whom juries loved and judges hated. Those awards did not withstand post-trial scrutiny, however, and by the time Damiano retained him, Kramer’s victories had crumbled in a series of disciplinary actions, appeals and fee disputes. It was only in 2002 that the true extent of Kramer’s eccentricities became apparent, when he was finally disbarred by the state supreme court after 38 instances of professional misconduct across various jurisdictions. That misconduct included the hiring of a private detective to “investigate” Chief Judge John Bissell, who was presiding over one of Kramer’s cases, in hopes of finding material that could be used to blackmail him. Back in 1995, however, Kramer’s problems had not fully bloomed. Once Dylan was served, his lawyers filed a summary judgment motion. Looking for a genuine issue of material fact, Simandle could not find one. The songs did not sound similar and the evidence indicated it was Damiano’s songs that were probably stolen from Dylan, not the other way around, wrote the Camden-based judge. Even if they were not stolen, the judge continued, Damiano certainly had created them for the sole purpose of filing suit. “Plaintiff’s complaint, consisting of various snippets of various origin that are rearranged and stitched together under made-for-litigation titles, is a cut-and-paste job,” the judge said. Damiano’s songs had not even been copyrighted — the very first hurdle a plaintiff has to cross in a copyright infringement suit. The entire claim was a fraud, Simandle ruled. But Damiano was undeterred. He had already engaged the defense in a year of discovery proceedings, including the deposition of several witnesses — two of whom gave credence to Damiano’s alleged meeting with Dylan in the parking lot — and garnered some personal letters and other correspondence. So Kramer filed for a motion of reconsideration. Between the filing and ruling, however, Kramer’s misdeeds in other cases caught up with him and he was suspended from the practice of law. In 1997, Simandle again ruled in favor of Dylan, dismissing the reconsideration motion. ENLISTING THE PRESS At this stage, most plaintiffs would realize that they had lost. But Damiano, now working pro se, began to exhibit the kind of magical thinking common to obsessive pro se litigants. Specifically, he believed that Kramer’s discovery had provided proof of his case. In particular, Kramer had managed to depose a former Associated Press reporter who had taped an interview with Dylan upon the release of “Down in the Groove,” Dylan’s 1988 album on which he sung other people’s songs. The reporter, Kathryn Baker, had asked Dylan in the interview why he had composed so little original material. Dylan replied, “There’s no rule that claims that anyone must write their own songs.” Dylan went on to tell Baker he did not have enough material for an album of his own work, and that his songwriting ability was not what it used to be. “In the old days, I could get to it real quick,” Dylan said. “I can’t get to it like that no more. It’s not that simple.” Damiano regarded that exchange as a smoking gun, indicating Dylan’s motive for stealing his songs: In the same year Dylan admitted he had writer’s block, he was handed Damiano’s package at Jones Beach. Even Dylan’s bus driver said in a separate deposition that he had received a package from Damiano. At this time, Damiano had come to believe that Dylan and Simandle were conspiring against him. The judge had not allowed Damiano to depose Dylan, after all. In his pleadings, Damiano regards himself as “the little guy” locked in a “daunting struggle against big business and [the] legal system, [which is] covertly manipulated by powerfully sinister forces.” An obsessive pro se “will come to court believing firmly that he or she has been wronged,” says Robbins, the former 2nd Circuit clerk. “It’s a real problem when the litigant doesn’t know even the rudiments of judicial process.” Clark Alpert of West Orange’s Alpert, Butler, Sanders, Norton & Bearg, who has made dealing with insistent, unlawyered litigants something of a specialty, agrees: “Pro se’s will kind of do or say anything,” he notes. Damiano did not respond to repeated attempts to reach him by telephone and e-mail to addresses listed on his Web sites. The various addresses given for him in the pleadings appear without telephone numbers, or are out of date. Calls made to people with the same name in the towns he lists as home were unsuccessful — there was no answer, the people answering said they were not James Damiano or messages were not returned. Believing that the suit was over, Dylan’s attorney, Orin Snyder of Parcher, Hayes & Snyder in New York, decided to recoup the singer’s legal costs. He filed motions demanding fees and contempt fines. As far back as 1996, Snyder had found Damiano trying to sell Dylan mementoes obtained through discovery in Rolling Stone magazine’s classifieds section. Damiano also had sent a manuscript to The New Yorker and the tabloid TV show “A Current Affair.” Snyder also found that Damiano and an acquaintance had agreed to attempt to sell the movie rights to Damiano’s saga. “He was going to use the information he got for financial gain,” Snyder says. Snyder obtained a protective order rendering all discovery confidential, but Damiano repeatedly offered items for sale or posted copies on the Internet. By August 2000, Simandle had found Damiano in contempt of two of his confidentiality orders and had ordered he pay costs and Snyder’s legal bills — $14,000. Rather than pay the bill, Damiano went back to where he started. Two weeks after the fines were levied, he filed another motion for “reconsideration” of the 1996 order, the first substantive ruling in the case. In November 2000, Simandle denied the motion. OBSESSION UNBROKEN Damiano then disappeared from the court’s docket for two years. Snyder, Dylan and Simandle could have been forgiven for thinking they would never hear from him again. But last December, Damiano filed yet another reconsideration motion. Unlike the papers filed by Kramer, which bore the appearance of regular pleadings, Damiano’s motions provide a nonlegal look inside the plaintiff’s mind. It’s a disconcerting landscape: The motions, which are hundreds of pages long, start off in similar form to those a lawyer might file. But after the first page they quickly devolve into the story of his life, copies of correspondence between him and various music industry figures, news clippings about unrelated pop stars and their achievements, and long lists of pretty much everything Damiano knows about Dylan. “He keeps on filing motions,” says Snyder. Damiano has also started a letter-writing campaign. Snyder says Mary Jo White, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and now a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton there, received Damiano’s e-mails, which claim that Snyder lied in an unrelated copyright case in which he defended Mariah Carey. White’s current office confirms she received the e-mail. Former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman also received a letter, according to Snyder’s deposition of Damiano. “He’s writing to everyone, anyone he knows who has a relationship to me,” Snyder says. Hateful letter writing is common to an obsessive pro se, according to Bettina Plevan, a partner at Proskauer Rose in New York. “It’s particularly disconcerting, I find, to junior lawyers who have not perhaps experienced it before,” she says. Plevan should know. In the late 1980s she defended Chase Manhattan in a sexual harassment suit brought pro se by former bank employee Carolee Koster. When the judge finally ruled against Koster after years of litigation, Koster’s father hunted the judge down and shot him to death. No one is suggesting that the Damiano case is heading in that direction. Snyder says he has asked the judge to enjoin Damiano from continuing to file — a common remedy for vexatious litigants — but Simandle’s recent correspondence with the parties does not indicate that will happen. Damiano’s last motion reads, “[Now] is as good a time as any to review the facts. … After six and a half years [sic], thirty five hours of videotaped depositions, and after three and a half million dollars have been spent on this litigation there has not been a counter-suit slander or libel suit filed by Bob Dylan.” The pages also accuse Simandle of partiality and demand his recusal. Damiano seems to believe that because Snyder did not contest certain Web sites Damiano created about Dylan that his allegations must therefore be true. “This litigation is so over,” Snyder says.

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