Casual observers of the July 2002 lawsuit filed by an overweight New Yorker against a group of fast food restaurants must be shaking their heads in amazement. Is the lawsuit alive, or is it dead?

True, attorneys Samuel Hirsch and John Banzhaf (of tobacco-wars fame) more recently filed a second suit, this one on behalf of overweight children. But the status of the first legal trial balloon — the one that made Caesar Barber famous — appears to be up in the air. In fact, Banzhaf’s answer depends on what day you ask him.

On September 2, Banzhaf told CNN that the Caesar Barber lawsuit “is gone” and “no longer applies.” But last Monday (October 28) he was back on the same network, singing a different tune in a debate with the Center for Consumer Freedom’s John Doyle. With a straight face, Banzhaf declared that “that suit is still in the courts.”

The plot thickens. According to the Supreme Court Clerk in the Bronx, attorneys Hirsch and Banzhaf have cleverly let the Caesar Barber lawsuit languish in the no-man’s land between initial filing and docket assignment.

Here’s how it works: for a $75 filing fee, the attorneys could easily have their suit assigned to a judge, but they appear to have intentionally chosen not to do so. Judging from Banzhaf’s frequent television blathering, it looks like the legal action is more valuable to him as a rhetorical propaganda tool than it will ever be in the hands of a jury.

This is not an unusual strategy for Banzhaf. The Washington Post recently sat in on his legal activism class, known at George Washington University as “Sue the Bastards.” Banzhaf didn’t lecture his students on the law, preferring instead to focus on the finer points of “care and feeding of the press.” He also taught them how to pack press releases with phrases like “hidden deadly ingredients!”

In recent months, Banzhaf has threatened to broaden his pool of potential “big fat” defendants to include “school boards and possibly even school board members.” Other targets could include just about anyone who doesn’t kowtow to the good-food / bad-food hysteria that’s sweeping the nation.