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Early this morning, Bart A. Ross committed suicide when, in West Allis, Wisconsin, he was pulled over by a law enforcement officer investigating why he was loitering in his car, writing a note. The note was a combination suicide note and confession. He confessed to the double murder of the husband and mother of Federal Judge Joan Lefkow. Why? Apparently, Judge Lefkow ruled against him in a civil suit he brought, and he blamed her for the loss of his family and his home (he was apparently on the eve of being evicted form his residence in Chicago). That is what the media told you.
"I looked up the case files in LEXIS and the Federal Court ECF systems. They tell a greater story. Mr. Ross was disfigured by radical jaw cancer surgery in 1992. He blamed his doctors for misdiagnosing his cancer, and filed a malpractice suit in Illinois state court in 1995."
There is much more. I looked up the case files in LEXIS and the Federal Court ECF systems. They tell a greater story. Mr. Ross was disfigured by radical jaw cancer surgery in 1992. He blamed his doctors for misdiagnosing his cancer, and filed a malpractice suit in Illinois state court in 1995. The court provisionally dismissed the suit on statute-of-limitations grounds, and gave Ross and his lawyer time to show facts that would support that the suit was timely. Instead, Ross fired his attorney, and proceeded on the notion that the judge was conspiring with his attorney and the doctors and their attorneys to deny him justice. The Illinois court dismissed his case, and the Illinois Appellate court upheld that dismissal.
Then, in 2000, acting as his own lawyer, Ross filed a lawsuit against the doctors, all of the lawyers (including his ex-lawyer) and the State of Illinois in Federal Court, charging that his civil rights were intentionally denied by the alleged malpractice. Judge David Coar dismissed that case. The Seventh Circuit upheld that dismissal. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his final appeal in 2003.
Then in mid-2004, Mr. Ross again went to Federal Court, and filed another lawsuit, over 130 pages long with hundreds of exhibits. This lawsuit accused the United States, acting through Judge Coar, who was alleged to have conspired with the Seventh Circuit and the Supreme Court to intentionally deprive him of his rights. There were 14 total defendants. Judge Lefkow drew this case. On July 6, 2004, sua sponte (on the court’s own motion), she ordered Mr. Ross to show why his lawsuit should not be dismissed by a certain date. He did not do so, Judge Lefkow did her duty and dismissed his case, and the Seventh Circuit summarily upheld Judge Lefkow. The final mandate came down in late January 2005. Then, Ross went out and viciously murdered the Honorable Judge’s husband and mother.
"Judge Lefkow’s July 6, 2004 order was a startling read for me, because it screamed out with compassion for the man, who had lost his job, was facially disfigured and in constant pain."
Was Judge Lefkow nasty to him? Sometimes judges lose their patience with vexatious cases and/or litigants. Actually, Judge Lefkow’s July 6, 2004 order was a startling read for me, because it screamed out with compassion for the man, who had lost his job, was facially disfigured and in constant pain. The honorable Judge then took pains to explain in simplest terms why the case was meritless, and did so with carefully chosen, compassionate words. It was as if Judge Lefkow, seeing the history here, was trying to give this man closure to a huge tragedy that had come to dominate his life over a decade. But, she also did her job and acted to dismiss a legally-frivolous case.
Judge Lefkow’s actions in Mr. Ross’ case show that she has earned the right to be called Your Honor. She could have been curt, she could have summarily dismissed the case with but one sentence and the dismissal would have been upheld. Instead, she took pains to show that she sympathized, but was powerless to fix what was wrong with Bart Ross’ life.
Mr. Ross snapped, located Judge Lefkow’s home address, broke into the home, and viciously murdered her mother and husband. Nothing about his tragic life remotely justifies this evil, cruel, wantonly lawless act. At some point in time, Mr. Ross’ mind appears to have derailed. He apparently became paranoid about the motives of all those around him. Did Mr. Ross actually think that Judge Coar conspired with doctors he never knew, lawyers who appear before him, and with Seventh Circuit judges and Supreme Court justices, just to wreck his life? We’ll never know now.
What happened to Bart Ross in 1992 was a tragedy. Was it malpractice? Who knows after more than a decade. Who is responsible for the present tragedy? Bart Ross. Nothing justifies murder. The victims were uninvolved innocents. Even if Mr. Ross’ plan had caused the death of the judge herself, she is innocent of any of the tragedy that befell Mr. Ross.
"Should Mr. Ross’ family have noticed his progressive detachment from reality and intervened? Perhaps. Perhaps they thought him obstinate and figured that these lawsuits were relatively harmless, not realizing that he was on the edge of a killing spree."
Should Mr. Ross’ family have noticed his progressive detachment from reality and intervened? Perhaps. Perhaps they thought him obstinate and figured that these lawsuits were relatively harmless, not realizing that he was on the edge of a killing spree. Should they have had him committed? Maybe. It’s all spilt milk now. Judge Lefkow showed this man kindness and was repaid for it with the murder of her family.
What I do know is this: The Honorable Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow acted in this case with the highest amount of honor, and went out of her way to demonstrate compassion, while still doing her job. I pray for her nightly, that God will give her strength to make it through this horrible time, and further that she won’t decide to retire from the bench over this. We need good, honest, caring, decent, honorable law-abiding judges. The Honorable Joan Humphrey Lefkow certainly meets that description.