He Really Said That?

The Illinois Attorney Discipline Committee issued a six month suspension to lawyer Melvin Hoffman for his oral and written comments to the Judge who was presiding over a custody hearing.

Mr. Hoffman was retained to defend the mother of a 14 year-old girl whose father brought a claim to have his daughter transferred from his ex-wife’s custody to his. At the first hearing, Hoffman asked for a change of venue to the county where both parties resided. The Judge declined and based on a psychological report granted a temporary custody order to the father.

A few days later, Mr. Hoffman conferred with the father’s lawyer and both agreed that a change of venue was necessary. Opposing counsel attended before the Judge to deal with the matter of the change of venue, however, the Judge declined to grant the order without the attendance of Mr. Hoffman. Opposing counsel called Mr. Hoffman from the court house and advised him of the Judge’s wishes. Mr. Hoffman telephoned the Judge’s chambers where opposing counsel and the Judge awaited Mr. Hoffman’s appearance.

Mr. Hoffman became loud and abusive and told the Judge that he did not intend to come to court because the Judge was a “narcisstic, maniacal, mental case who did not deserve to be on the bench.”

Following this incident the Judge ordered Mr. Hoffman and his client to appear before him on a fixed date. Several days before the fixed date, Mr. Hoffman wrote a letter to the Judge:

“During our telephone conference you personally stated “I have no problem with the matter being heard in LaSalle County.” If that is correct and no motions are pending before you, 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 girl with a drug and alcohol addict.”

Hoffman also suggested in his letter that the Judge had “illusions of grandiosity… a tendency toward self-promotion” and that Hoffman’s client was entitled to a judicial “apology.”

It is undeniable that Mr. Hoffman’s conduct was contemptuous and likely to bring the administration of justice into disrepute, however, many trial lawyers, if they could be honest, would silently cheer and salute Mr. Hoffman. It is impossible to practice law for decades without running into a Judge who is surly, impatient and condescending. Interestingly, those same Judges are the ones whose personal lives mirror the grey isolation of their professional careers. Hoffman clearly had his own psychological issues as well. A lawyer who embraces his client’s cause to the extent Mr. Hoffman did is a lawyer who needs a sabbatical.

This disciplinary hearing prompted the Committee to review Mr. Hoffman’s past transgressions, incidents that had been investigated but not pursued by the Committee. These will be the subject of future posts.

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