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. “Anonymously Yours 1, July 2, 2010 at 9:37 am


    99 per cent of all litigation attorneys do what is called hyperbole. It is a form of defamation, which can be libel or slander depending on the forum. I am guilty as charged. It is protected speech in the courtroom. Got a problem with that?

    it is the intentional infliction of harm…usually done to someone in a situation where they are essentially pinned down and unable to respond fully. It is sadistic bullying refined into terrorism. It is at best cowardice and why would it be protected in a courtroom? It seems to me it would also be indicative of a very poor case or a very poor lawyer or both.

  2. Dredd,

    I could not agree more so. Ya never wanna piss the bitch in the black dress off……I even think I said that in court one day….Yep…that was me.

    Sometimes when you have a loser case, you have to preserve the record somehow…..

  3. The old war expert once said “do not attack your opponent where your opponent is strongest” … which in the case of judges is in their court, or in the case of police, on their beat.

    They are weakest in the appropriate forum where your complaint against them can be legitimately heard.

  4. Isn’t this rule re character evidence supposed to be generally applicable in all court communications and wouldn’t it also apply to comments regarding the judge’s character?

    Rule 404. Character Evidence Not Admissible To Prove Conduct; Exceptions; Other Crimes

    (a) Character evidence generally

    Evidence of a person’s character or a trait of character is not admissible for the purpose of proving action in conformity therewith on a particular occasion, except:

    (1) Character of accused – In a criminal case, evidence of a pertinent trait of character offered by an accused, or by the prosecution to rebut the same, or if evidence of a trait of character of the alleged victim of the crime is offered by an accused and admitted under Rule 404 (a)(2), evidence of the same trait of character of the accused offered by the prosecution;

    (2) Character of alleged victim – In a criminal case, and subject to the limitations imposed by Rule 412, evidence of a pertinent trait of character of the alleged victim of the crime offered by an accused, or by the prosecution to rebut the same, or evidence of a character trait of peacefulness of the alleged victim offered by the prosecution in a homicide case to rebut evidence that the alleged victim was the first aggressor;

    (3) Character of witness – Evidence of the character of a witness, as provided in rules 607, 608, and 609.

    (b) Other crimes, wrongs, or acts

    Evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show action in conformity therewith. It may, however, be admissible for other purposes, such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident, provided that upon request by the accused, the prosecution in a criminal case shall provide reasonable notice in advance of trial, or during trial if the court excuses pretrial notice on good cause shown, of the general nature of any such evidence it intends to introduce at trial.

  5. BTW,regarding court hows this?

    ‘Virginity test’ helps free 3 in Vietnam rape case| info by TRAN VAN MINH
    Associated Press Writer

    updated 7/1/2010 11:32:53 PM
    HANOI, Vietnam — An acupuncturist who claims she can detect a man’s virginity based on a small dot on the ear has become a minor celebrity in Vietnam, where she is credited with helping to free three convicted rapists from prison.

    Traditional medicine practitioner Pham Thi Hong started lobbying for the men’s release, pleading their case all the way to the president, because she believes all three men are virgins and therefore could not be guilty of rape.

  6. “Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.” – Sun Tzu

    “It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell.” – Buddha (the real one)

  7. Buddha, Mespo, Mike A.,

    I agree with what you have all stated. However, sometimes you must admit, you have seen judges take out there frustrations on either the client, attorney or both when the issue really lies with the Judge and Attorney.

    If this were a perfect world and abuses that did not go unchallenged were left unchecked in the courtroom where would the action for grieving the Abusive Judge lie?

    You cannot tell me that in your years of practice that you have not seen this type of behavior and reported it. You are under an obligation if you see it ti report it. It all too often goes, well it did not happen to me or my client so whats the difference. I have held a blind eye as well.

    Growing up in an Abusive Household as a child better prepared me for the courtroom than any military training. You learn to say yes sir and no sir with a smile on your face while seething under your breath, not to breath a sultry word and say thank you at the end with the most sincere voice ever told.

    How many times have you seen abusive Judges sitting on the bench and not taken it upon yourself to report it? I do not know if your states PR or Cannon’s require such action, but in two states that I am familiar with, it is a must that you report unprofessional conduct. I have never reported an attorney, but should have. So I myself was in violation of the Ethics as stated. Et Tu?

  8. mespo,

    It’s a risky strategy unless you have a clear cut case.

    A perfect example of a clear cut case is the non-recusal of Martin Feldman for conflict of interest over BP.

    But yelling at the judge the way this guy did? That’s the strategic and tactical version of a “face plant”.

  9. Buddha:

    In reading the opinion, I note that Hoffman questioned the legal competency an administrative law judge’s qualifications in another case, and the panel of the Illinois Bar that heard his ethics case. Seems that “attack the judge” strategy ain’t working.

  10. It’s a problem I see with some regularity among those of us who’ve been practicing a long time. Simply put, we conclude – wrongly – that our extended tenure imbues us with legal knowledge far in excess of our colleagues on the bench, and thus relieves us of our duty to accord them the respect to which they are entitled by virtue of their office.

    Hoffman stepped over the line, the validity of his criticisms notwithstanding. These is not a first amendment issue in my view. Hoffman, obviously incensed at the Judge’s rulings, took this case personally and mounted his white charger to do battle with the dragon he made the Judge out to be. He had other avenues to redress this perceived wrong, but decided a verbal barrage would do the trick. It’s arguing with the umpire on a grand scale. His ego assuaged, Hoffman likely also accomplished a slander/libel on the Judge (mental instability), prejudice to his client’s case, and a self-inflicted blow to his own career.

    Ours is a learned profession and not a shouting match among well-heeled professionals schooled in rhetoric and hyperbole. That is the stuff of TV lawyers and gaudy, demagogue cable TV hosts. If Hoffman can’t comport himself as a lawyer, maybe he shouldn’t be one anymore.

  11. KS,

    99 per cent of all litigation attorneys do what is called hyperbole. It is a form of defamation, which can be libel or slander depending on the forum. I am guilty as charged. It is protected speech in the courtroom. Got a problem with that?

  12. ID,

    The Judicial Tenure/Disciplinary Board only acts when it egregious conduct and rarely then. They figure that most people can and will appeal. The unfortunate part is the same governor that appointed him appointed 90 per cent of the COA so its a win less situation.

    Another case in point. A judge who was making deal with defendants to rat out other possible defendants in drug cases was conditioning bail with them for giving names, places and dates on the record of other crimes committed.

    The Judicial Authorities talked with him as he was facing 2-10 year and convinced him to retire rather than be prosecuted. It took 4 years to get to that point, there is no record or proceeding to remove him from the bench. They were going to file charges, then the light turned on for him.

    I remember one case where the Prosecutor was not doing such a great job and he took over for them. I kid you not, I walked out of the courtroom and was in shock. The prosecutor and I was dumbstruck. Well they won, but they were upset that the Judge made them look like idiots.

  13. Well it is true that in a regular business if you publicly accused even your co-workers of having “serious mental issues” you might get in trouble. What I don’t understand is why the discipline is so uneven — why lawyers don’t get disbarred for saying and writing things that are totally untrue, building in violation of the zoning, calling litigants mentally ill, witness intimidation, witness retaliation, taking payments from insurance companies not registered in the state etc.

  14. I read the other blogs on lawyers blowing their stacks about judges, inside and outside the courtroom. I especially liked the Fieger blog. What a lunatic. And, these are the types of lawyers that get all the publicity.

    I agree that a lawyer should be entitled to say whatever he or she likes about a judge outside of a courtroom. It shouldn’t matter whether the judge is appointed or elected.

    If a judge is giving improper jury instructions, then the remedy is not to insult him or her in court, but to file a complaint with the authorities. If the judge is a serial offender, presumably you can get the petition signed by many other lawyers who practice before the same judge, so you are not singled out. That’s how it’s done, not by calling the judge names in court.

  15. Most lawyers in the course of their careers will walk out of a few hearings with bleeding tongues. That’s called maturity. Mr. Hoffman’s comments served neither his client nor justice. The appropriate forum for his grievances would be a judicial disciplinary proceeding.

  16. He said what i all too many cases needs to be said. Case in point, in a Neglect Abuse Proceeding or any case in a certain Judges court if a person takes the 5th, the judge states to the person that by taking that position that, they are guilty and any information stated with be viewed with suspicion and there is a doubt in any and all of the testimony proffered.

    If it is a Jury trial, he states to the jury that they may discount any or all of the testimony offered but that is there call as he is just there to decide matters of laws, they must decide if a witness is telling the truth, which is a fact issue for them to decide. But in his experience… get the picture.

  17. The lawyer’s the mental case. You may “think” the judge is a monomaniacal mental case who doesn’t belong on the bench but you don’t say it to the judge. And, you don’t refuse to apologise when the Bar comes calling. This guy doesn’t want to be a lawyer.

    There was a bankruptcy judge in Dallas who was so stupid it was mind boggling. Also nasty, vindictive and mean spirited. One of the lawyers working on the case called him “a monkey with a gun,” which I thought was pretty funny.

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