Illinois Lawyer Suspended For Calling Judge a “Narcissistic, Maniacal Mental Case”

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

29 thoughts on “Illinois Lawyer Suspended For Calling Judge a “Narcissistic, Maniacal Mental Case””

  1. I do agree that this comment in no way helped the client or the attorney (especially in any future holdings in that courtroom) the comments were made in the chambers and not in front of a court room full of people. I am very familiar with Judge Murphy, on the other hand, and I do not disagree with the statement made. I will not go into details becasue the story is too long, but if there is any lawsuit in the future, I would definately be interested in becoming a party to it and helping in any way possible to remove this judge from his position.

  2. If I was a judge I would develop an exit survey for all lawyers and litigants who appear before me with questions about whether they were satisfied with their abilities to present their facts, whether they thought I was polite etc. Some judges have them.

    In terms of this particular case, the lawyer did appear really rude. However, when I was in court, the lawyers always engaged in dirty tricks.

    A six month suspension of income is a lot of money though. Wouldn’t a punishment in the magnitude of speeding 20 miles over the speed limit have been adequate to deter repetition?

  3. seamus:

    “My partner had a case in front of [Judge Murphy} for the first time a month ago and said he was one of the best, knowlegable and courteous, judges he’d been in front of in a long time.”
    After reading the ethics opinion, I have no doubt the one with emotional issues isn’t Judge Murphy.

  4. Patrick Murphy has been on the bench for a relatively short time. For years he was the Public Guardian in Cook County. He was zealous in the defense of abused kids but he never had a reputation as being overly zealous. I’m sure he took apay cut when he became a judge, although its possible he got on the benc to double up his public pention, which is a huge scam here in Illinos and in Cook County in particular.

    My partner had a case in front of him for the first time a month ago and said he was one of the best, knowlegable and courteous, judges he’d been in front of in a long time.

  5. Dear John

    Do you mean to imply that I am “mentally ill” and should be forced to defend my competence? The Rules of Civil Procedure presume competence. Insanity is a possible defense to a criminal charge to be made by a criminal defendant. I wasn’t criminally charged. I was the plaintiff in a civil case and wasn’t required to establish competence.

  6. Couldn’t there be an ethics officer who would call anyone on violations of rule 404? In other words, a lawyer or pro se litigant could accuse a judge of a crime or of ignoring S.C. rulings, but not of being egotistical. A judge could accuse a lawyer or pro se litigant of ignoring statutes or rulings, but not of being stupid or “obsessed”. A lawyer could not accuse the opposing party of being mentally ill (which happened to me). If a lawyer, judge, or pro se litigant made any comments regarding stupid, obsessed, egotistical, mentally ill etc. they could get an ethics ticket with a certain number of points. If you got a certain number of ethics violation points, then more serious consequences would follow. Ethics violation points could be assessed for accusing someone of being a bad writer, too, because that is just distracting.

    Prosecutors should be accountable too. When I was imprisoned for violating a NO PRO SE order, I met a gal who pled guilty to a theft that there was no evidence even happened other than an accusation, which could have been to support a fraudulent insurance claim, or retaliation by a boyfriend she dumped. She told me that her public defender told her that they would allow testimony that she was a sloppy housekeeper and that she faced potentially 6 years if she didn’t plea bargain.

  7. anonymous for a reason;

    “The Prosecutor does it all the time with pure circumstantial evidence. Think about that!”

    Thinking is what led to my statement.
    Again I ask, why would this sort of behaviour be protected in a courtroom?

  8. WC,

    Sorry, but you was a cat, and I am sure you have your reasons. The Prosecutor does it all the time with pure circumstantial evidence. Think about that!

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