SACRAMENTO – A Sacramento man flagged by the California court system for filing frivolous lawsuits has repeatedly gained free access to the courts by concealing his income and assets, a News10 investigation has revealed.
Raghvendra "Raj" Singh, 51, has sued the Sacramento Police Department for towing his parked car on a city street; he's sued city and county code enforcement officers for trying to make him repair dangerous properties - including a home where a woman died in a fire in December; and he's sued environmental regulators who are trying to prevent toxic chemicals at a former dump site he owns from contaminating a nearby creek.
Taxpayers are not only footing the bill for their local governments to defend themselves from Singh's lawsuits, they're also paying Singh's court costs.
Documents filed in state and federal court show Singh routinely pleads poverty to obtain fee waivers, saving him, at a minimum, hundreds of dollars per case.
In a 2010 court fee waiver application, for example, Singh declared he owned nothing of value and that his total earnings for the previous 12 months was just $200 in disability payments.
But according to an IRS audit of Singh's 2010 tax return obtained by News10, Singh's modified adjusted gross income was $594,393, including $31,000 in Social Security disability benefits.
News10 also found Singh receives tax bills at his Fort Sutter branch post office box for 24 properties in Sacramento, Placer and El Dorado counties - all held in the name of his wife, Kiran Rawat, or various trusts.
In 2001, Singh sued the president of a business condominium owners association in south Sacramento over the association's insistence that Singh pay his $46 monthly dues.
"He said to me 'my name is Raj Singh and I am your worst nightmare,'" recalled Stephen Lipworth, who at the time owned 27 of the 29 condo units in the Southgate Professional Center.
Singh sued Lipworth for "pain, suffering and inconvenience," and demanded more than $6 million in damages.
Other lawsuits against Lipworth followed -- in state civil court, family court, U.S. District Court and bankruptcy court.
"He was wanting to teach me a lesson," Lipworth said, adding he's spent well over $100,000 to defend himself from Singh's legal crusade that continues today, 13 years later.
Lipworth's San Francisco attorney, Steven Finley, has dedicated an inbox to Singh to handle the mountain of paperwork. He places much of the blame for Singh's frequent filings on the fee waivers.
"He was getting access to the justice system for free," Finley said. "And that emboldened him."
Finley said he was unaware of any lawsuits in which Singh had prevailed, and in 2003 he succeeded in having Singh placed on a statewide list of frivolous filers, known as vexatious litigants, that requires a plaintiff acting without an attorney to obtain court approval before filing a new complaint.
But those who've become Singh's targets say he found a workaround.
Sacramento County Deputy County Counsel Susan Masarweh, who has defended against multiple actions filed by Singh, wrote in a brief last year that "Singh has attempted to evade the pre-filing order by utilizing the letterhead of an attorney for the sole purpose of filing a complaint, only to then substitute himself in as his own attorney shortly after the filing."
Singh's recent lawsuits have been filed on the letterhead of San Francisco attorney Keith Oliver, who did not respond to an email from News10 seeking details of his professional relationship with Singh.
But in a letter last month to the Third District Court of Appeal in response to an investigation by the State Bar of California, Oliver disavowed involvement in an appeal filed by Singh under Oliver's name.
"I never authorized an appeal in this case," Oliver wrote. "In fact, I was adamant that there should not be an appeal of the trial court's decision."
Scolded by judges
Singh has come under sharp rebuke for his behavior by various judges and court officials.
In 2005, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Virga rejected Singh's fee waiver application in a case that was before him, refusing to believe Singh's claim that his sole income was $200 in disability payments.
"Mr. Singh's record of multiple improper filings with this Court raises serious doubts about his credibility," Virga wrote in his order.
In another case, also in 2005, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Loren McMaster held Singh in contempt for filing under the name "Archana Singh" in an apparent attempt to evade the standing pre-filing order.
In 2009, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne Chang concluded Singh had perpetrated a "fraud" on her court.
"Included among (Singh's) illicit litigation tactics is his frequent use of aliases, such as Rag, Ram, Roc, Kaus and Archana Singh in order to confuse courts and opposing parties," Chang wrote in an order allowing Singh's primary residence in midtown Sacramento to be sold to satisfy a court judgment.
Singh then tried to block the sale of the property by filing four separate bankruptcy cases in the span of one year, leading U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Ronald Sargis in 2011 to prohibit Singh from filing any new cases in bankruptcy court without prior approval.
In one of the bankruptcy cases, a U.S. Justice Department attorney representing the United States Trustee accused Singh of forgery for "manufacturing false or deceptive documents" to prevent foreclosure.
"If true, his conduct was criminal," attorney Judith Hotze wrote.
Despite official threats and stern language, Singh has never been charged with a crime, something that Steven Finley, his longtime adversary, finds astonishing.
"I think what bothers me even more is the authorities, the district attorney, the U.S. Attorney, or whoever might prosecute criminally, have not taken an interest in what's happening here," Finley said.
In several telephone conversations with News10, Singh defended his frequent filings, claiming to be acting as a "private attorney general" working in the public interest.
One recent example is a lawsuit Singh filed last September against the city of Sacramento over three properties code enforcement officers determined to be uninhabitable.
The lawsuit seeks class action status and claims code enforcement activities have resulted in billions of dollars in damages to taxpayers.
Singh has refused to discuss his finances, but defended the fee waivers because the lawsuits were filed for the benefit of the general public.
In a later email, Singh offered to provide financial records if News10 would donate $5,000 to his cause.
"If you want to know my secrets, give me a donation," he said.
Singh also challenged News10's assumption that he owns at least 26 properties because the tax bills go directly to his post office box. The properties, he pointed out, are held in the name of his wife and various trusts.
"You're a nice reporter, but you don't know the law," he said.