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Pinellas judge in foreclosure case sues homeowner for 'false, fictitious, and fraudulent' filings

A Pinellas circuit judge presiding over a foreclosure action is suing the homeowner in that case, claiming she filed "false, fictitious and fraudulent" documents against the judge in his own court.

The lawsuit stems from the 2013 foreclosure of a Clearwater home at 3155 Hyde Park Drive in the Countryside area near McMullen-Booth Road. Homeowners Leslie and Martin Armstrong stopped making mortgage payments in October 2011, according to court records.

Circuit Judge Thomas Minkoff ruled in favor of Wells Fargo on Sept. 4.

Later that month, Leslie Armstrong, 58, filed records against Minkoff in federal court, outlining in a document titled "Criminal Complaint" a list of allegations against the judge and the bank. She demanded a jury trial in the foreclosure, Armstrong wrote, but "Judge Minkoff conspired with Wells Fargo Bank and the trespassing attorneys to steal my property."

The judge and the bank also violated "U.S. constitutional laws," her complaint says. Among them: "No law-abiding person shall be forced to do anything he does not want to do" and "No controlling agency shall harass a U.S. citizen."

She also claimed liens against the judge, the bank and the bank's attorneys, calculating that they owed a total of $2.4 million.

That kind of legal language is similar to documents used by the sovereign citizen movement, whose adherents believe that federal, state and local laws — especially when it comes to paying taxes — don't apply to them.

"The documents, with their numerous references to 'natural law,' the Constitution, and an array of imaginary crimes, do appear to be the work of a sovereign citizen," said Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremism. "It's possible the person who filed them doesn't adhere to all the ideas of sovereign citizens, however," he said in an email.

Armstrong, who still lives at her Clearwater home, could not be reached for comment.

The federal case she filed didn't get far. It was dismissed in June, records show.

Armstrong, however, filed the same documents in her foreclosure case in circuit court, which remains open after she filed for bankruptcy. But the judge was not amused. In a court order, Minkoff called them "improper, frivolous, and unauthorized."

"Due to her abuse of the judicial process and wasting of judicial resources, the court bars Defendant Leslie Armstrong from filing any further documents in this case unless represented by an attorney," he wrote.

Pinellas-Pasco Judicial Circuit spokesman Stephen Thompson said Minkoff filed the lawsuit because the records could "impugn his reputation as a judge."

Minkoff asked the Pinellas clerk of court to remove the offending filings from the record. In the lawsuit filed in Pinellas court on July 8, he explained that Armstrong's filings affect him due to the "false appearance of a secured debt or an outstanding lien" against him.

Minkoff is being represented by an attorney from the Office of the Attorney General, which, under Florida law, is authorized to represent public officials in state court to defend them against false liens.

Pinellas Clerk of Court Ken Burke, who is also named in the lawsuit, said the civil action is a necessary step for the records to be expunged.

"I have no authority to seal records," he said. "I need some type of direction from the court to do so. This lawsuit would give me that type of direction."

Contact Laura C. Morel at lmorel@tampabay.com. Follow @lauracmorel.

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