By Charlton (Chuck) Stanley, Weekend Contributor
The sad case of Cook County (Illinois) Judge Cynthia Brim has been discussed on this blog previously here and here. To sum up, she had a mental breakdown while holding traffic court on March 8, 2012.
She went on a paranoid rant, accusing police of targeting minorities for traffic tickets. For the next 45 minutes, she rambled on about her childhood as well as describing at least five prior hospitalizations for mental illness. During her rambling outburst, she told her audience she was once removed from the courtroom by paramedics after a previous breakdown.
Witnesses reported she said, “Not only men have balls, but women can have balls too. You just have to grow them.”
Someone reported her outburst to Chief Judge Brian Flaherty, who was having lunch at the time. Flaherty got up from his lunch and went directly to Judge Brim’s courtroom. After some persuasion, Judge Flaherty talked her into leaving the Courtroom.
The next day, she went to Daley Center dressed in hospital scrubs, a fur coat and a fur hat. No one recognized her as a judge at the security checkpoint. She reportedly shoved a deputy sheriff and threw her keys at him. She was arrested for misdemeanor battery. Later she was transported to a psychiatric hospital for an evaluation of her mental condition.
In the November 2012 General Election, she was reelected by an overwhelming majority vote, despite being ruled “unfit” by the Chicago Bar Association. However, she was not allowed to return to the courtroom, but did continue to draw her salary as an elected official.
She was tried on the assault charges in February 2013 and found not guilty by reason of insanity. Testimony showed Judge Brim had been having psychotic breaks since at least 1994, and had been hospitalized at least five times. She was diagnosed with a bipolar type of Schizoaffective Disorder a number of years ago, and had been prescribed antipsychotic medication for the condition. The history showed she made a practice of stopping her medications on her own, apparently as soon as she began to feel better.
Friday, May 9, Judge Cynthia Brim was removed from her position as a county court judge by the Illinois Courts Commission, which oversees the judiciary in Illinois. Her salary stops immediately. The Commission expressed sympathy for Judge Brim’s mental illness, but pointed out her own culpability in refusing to stay on her medications and failure to follow through with treatment when she needed it.
The 55 year old Brim is the first judge in more than a decade to be removed from the Bench during a term of office. In fact, only the seventh in the last forty years. In the unanimous ruling, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier wrote, “The public expects and deserves predictability in the judicial process, and the unpredictable and unrecognizable nature of (Brim’s) mental illness places the public at risk,” He went on to say that she had left the panel no choice by her refusal to stay in treatment.
My analysis of this sad situation:
When I first started in this business, what is now called Schizoaffective Disorder was called “Ambulatory Schizophrenia.” It is a strange disorder, because the patient can appear to be exceedingly normal much of the time. However, the facade of normalcy may be masking delusions, hallucinations, and a major disturbance of thought.
This is a treatable condition, and many people with Bipolar Disorder function quite well in society as long as they stay on the medications. However, it is not “curable” and is a lifelong condition. Like diabetes and some other chronic disorders, the patient can never go off their medications.
It is more treatable than true schizophrenia, and the treatment for both Bipolar Disorder and Schizoaffective Disorder are pretty much the same. The catch is that a self-proclaimed “flight into health” will never succeed. Sadly, Cynthia Brim does not have enough insight into her own condition to see that. Just because she may feel better does not mean she is better.
It is people like Cynthia Brim who create problems for others who may suffer from a similar disorder, but who stay in treatment. I hope she has learned something from this, but one of the best predictors of future behavior is past behavior. My sympathy to her and her family, because from all indications, the pattern is likely to repeat itself. I just hope that she is not one of those mentally ill people who get themselves killed or imprisoned because of their illness.
The full ruling of the Illinois Courts Commission is posted here on Scribd.
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