Melvin Hoffman, an Illinois lawyer with 35 years of experience, has been hit with a six-month suspension by the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission for calling Judge Patrick Murphy a “narcissistic, maniacal mental case” in a telephone conference call on a family law matter.
Here are the facts stated in the opinion below:
Respondent represented Kim Novak with respect to an emergency change of custody petition (petition) filed by her former husband, Michael Solner, in which Michael sought to remove custody of Kim and Michael’s 14-year-old daughter, Robin, from Kim and her husband, David Novak. Michael’s attorney, Joel Schaps, filed the petition in the circuit court of Cook County, where the Solners’ dissolution action had been filed.
Judge Patrick Murphy heard the petition on November 27, 2007. Respondent appeared before Judge Murphy and asked that the case be transferred to LaSalle County because none of the parties resided in Cook County. Judge Murphy declined to do so and ordered that Michael be given temporary custody of Robin, based on the recommendation of Dr. Michael Karpowicz, a case manager who interviewed Robin. Robin was later removed from Michael’s custody.
Respondent and attorney Schaps subsequently reached an agreement to transfer the case, but Judge Murphy would not sign the agreed order to transfer because he wanted Respondent and his client to appear before him in person to explain parts of an affidavit that Judge Murphy believed to be untrue. When attorney Schaps called Respondent to advise him of this, Respondent asked to speak with Judge Murphy. The parties went to Judge Murphy’s chambers and Respondent appeared via speakerphone on his client’s behalf.
Attorney Schaps and Judge Murphy testified that during the telephone conversation Respondent stated that he refused to appear before Judge Murphy. He yelled at Judge Murphy and said that he was a “narcissistic, maniacal, mental case, and should not be on the bench.” Respondent denied that he raised his voice or that he used the phrase “mental case.”
Hoffman did not back off. On February 12, 2008, he sent Judge Murphy a letter that stated in part:
I must note further that during our telephone conference on February 8, 2008, you personally stated: “I have no problem with the matter being heard in LaSalle County.” If that is correct, and no Motions are pending in Cook County, it is extremely difficult to comprehend any justification or motivation whatsoever for requiring the appearance of counsel other than the interjection of your personal vendetta in an attempt to rationalize your own mistake in summarily placing a 14 year old child with a drug and alcohol addict.
As an officer of the court, I must bluntly state that you appear to have serious mental issues involving extreme narcissism and illusions of grandiosity which effectively interferes with your ability to act as a Judge. I am certain this is the opinion of many other lawyers who are acquainted with you. I am aware of your tendency toward self-promotion and your blatant insinuation that you somehow have a superior ability to ascertain peremptorily and without the presentation of appropriate evidence the best interests of children. Do you in any manner accept the reality of the jeopardy in which you placed this child? Is it possible that you could apologize to my client, who has had custody of this child since birth and suffered weeks of sleepless nights wondering whether her child would return safely from her substance addicted and irresponsible former husband? Are you capable of self-examination, or do you simply react negatively and defensively to any suggestion that you are incapable of error?
That was enough for the bar, which also charged Hoffman with giving false testimony in its proceedings and refusing to express regret for his comments and actions. It also rejected first amendment claims raised by Hoffman. We have seen recent cases where attorneys have faced such charges (here and here and here). Some do raise valid first amendment claims, in my view, but most courts would uphold the result in this case.
Here is the opinion.
Source: ABA Journal