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In re Eckberg

July 06, 2000

IN RE DAVID EUGENE ECKBERG, ATTORNEY, RESPONDENT.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McMORROW

Agenda 10-January 2000.

The Administrator of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) filed a petition with the Hearing Board, pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 758 (137 Ill. 2d R. 758), seeking a determination whether respondent, David Eugene Eckberg, was incapacitated from continuing to practice law by reason of a mental infirmity or a mental disorder and should be transferred to inactive status. The Hearing Board determined that although respondent had been incapacitated from continuing to practice law at the time the Administrator filed the petition, respondent was not incapacitated at the time of the hearing. The Hearing Board nevertheless recommended that, in order to remain on active status, respondent should abide by conditions which required his continued medical treatment and monitoring for a period of five years. The Review Board affirmed the findings and recommendations of the Hearing Board. However, the Review Board modified the conditions to reduce their scope and extent. Respondent appeals the recommendation by the Review Board that conditions be imposed upon his continued practice of law. This court granted respondent's petition for leave to file exceptions. See 166 Ill. 2d R. 753(e)). For the reasons that follow, we reject the recommendation of the Review Board, and we dismiss this action.

BACKGROUND

I. The Evidence

On December 20, 1996, the Administrator filed a petition, pursuant to Rule 758, requesting that the Hearing Board determine whether respondent was incapacitated from continuing to practice law by reason of mental infirmity or mental disorder, and whether he should be transferred to inactive status pending removal of the disability. The following evidence, relevant to the issues before this court, was presented.

Respondent is 57 years old and was admitted to the practice of law in 1968. Thereafter, he was an assistant State's Attorney, an attorney for a state governmental agency, and a private practitioner. Since 1978, respondent has worked as a sole practitioner in Chicago, handling cases involving unemployment, wrongful termination, domestic relations, criminal matters, and condemnation proceedings. Also since 1978, respondent has continuously been a member of the Chicago Bar Association in-court referral panel, where he is assigned to a courtroom on one day of the month. Approximately 50% of respondent's case load consists of these in-court referral cases, and, typically, these cases are disposed of on the same day that they are assigned to respondent. Respondent is also a participant in the Chicago Bar Associations' lawyer referral program and receives approximately 20% of his case load, or four cases per month, from this program. Respondent has no prior disciplinary complaints filed against him.

In June 1996, the Administrator initiated an investigation of respondent's capacity to practice law as a result of two letters written by respondent to the FBI, an Illinois Supreme Court Justice, and a United States Congressman. In the first letter, dated June 9, 1996, respondent alleged that he was the object of a conspiracy directed by his co-counsel in a "sham" legal malpractice case pending in the circuit court of Cook County. Respondent further alleged that his estranged wife and her father were also plotting against him. According to respondent, as a result of this conspiracy, he was "under death threat," and was being followed on a constant basis for at least one month. Respondent's second letter, dated June 16, 1996, contained similar conspiracy allegations.

Copies of respondent's two letters were sent by the Supreme Court Justice to the ARDC, which requested that respondent contact that office to discuss the matters contained in the letters. Respondent appeared at the offices of the ARDC on June 28, 1996, and continued to claim that he was the object of harassment and death threats made by his wife, her father, and other Illinois attorneys. Respondent also expressed concern that his letters had come into the Administrator's possession. In a subsequent letter sent to the ARDC, respondent asserted that the ARDC investigation was "endangering [his] personal life [and] perhaps the lives of others." Respondent concluded this letter by asking that the ARDC close his file.

On October 17, 1996, the Administrator requested that respondent voluntarily submit to a psychiatric examination by an impartial medical examiner. The next day, respondent appeared at the offices of the ARDC and agreed to submit to a psychiatric evaluation. Arrangements were made for respondent to be evaluated by Dr. S. Dale Loomis, a board-certified psychiatrist, at Dr. Loomis' office.

However, respondent did not meet with Dr. Loomis as scheduled because respondent was hospitalized in the psychiatric unit at Rush-Presbyterian St. Luke's Hospital on October 23, 1996. Evidence at the hearing revealed that respondent had been previously hospitalized at Lutheran General Hospital in 1989. The records from respondent's 1989 hospitalization made reference to prior psychiatric hospitalizations, and indicated that respondent had a history of psychiatric disturbances over a 20-year period. At the time of his 1989 hospitalization, respondent was diagnosed as having a generalized anxiety disorder.

During respondent's 1996 hospitalization, which lasted from October 23 to November 11, he was diagnosed as having a generalized anxiety disorder, although bipolar affective disorder was also suspected at that time. In addition, a neuropsychological evaluation indicated that respondent may suffer from frontal lobe syndrome, an organic brain disease which impairs judgment and behavior. After his release from Rush, respondent voluntarily admitted himself to the psychiatric ward at Lutheran General Hospital on November 11, 1996, in response to his wife's report to the local fire department that respondent indicated that he intended to commit suicide.

Subsequent to respondent's release from Lutheran General Hospital in December 1996, the Administrator filed the petition at issue in this case. At the hearing before the Hearing Board, four psychiatrists presented testimony. Three of these psychiatrists, Dr. S. Dale Loomis, Dr. Stafford Henry, and Dr. Robert Galatzer-Levy, had examined respondent for the purposes of these proceedings and testified on behalf of the Administrator. The fourth psychiatrist, Dr. Carl Aagesen, was respondent's treating psychiatrist and testified on respondent's behalf.

Dr. Loomis testified that his initial contact with respondent was during respondent's hospitalization at Lutheran General in November 1996. According to Dr. Loomis, during this one hour session, respondent talked very rapidly, constantly spoke of tangential matters which made his speech difficult to follow, and claimed that he was the target of a conspiracy in which he had been constantly followed and his phones tapped. Dr. Loomis testified that respondent denied any medical reason for his hospitalization, instead asserting that he had been "railroaded" into the hospital by his wife. On the basis of this initial examination, Dr. Loomis concluded that respondent suffered from a bipolar disorder.

Almost one year later, in December 1997, Dr. Loomis conducted a second interview with respondent. Dr. Loomis testified that during their meeting, respondent's thought processes were "extremely scattered," respondent behaved in an expansive, grandiose, and paranoid manner, and, after a period of time, respondent became resentful of being questioned. Based upon this second meeting, Dr. Loomis reaffirmed his diagnosis of bipolar disorder. He specifically disagreed with the conclusion of respondent's treating psychiatrist, Dr. Aagesen, that respondent suffers from generalized anxiety disorder. Dr. Loomis testified that, if left untreated, respondent would likely experience "repeated cycling episodes" of mania and depression, and recommended that respondent be treated with psychiatric management and a mood-stabilizing medication. Based upon his two sessions with respondent, Dr. Loomis concluded that respondent was incapable of practicing law. On cross-examination, Dr. Loomis acknowledged that he was unaware of the types or complexity of the cases respondent handled before, during, and after his hospitalizations.

The Administrator also called Dr. Stafford Henry to testify. He evaluated respondent during a 2½-hour session in July 1997. Dr. Henry testified that respondent was "generally agitated," jumped "from subject to subject" in an incoherent manner, and believed that he was the target of a far-reaching conspiracy. Dr. Henry diagnosed respondent as having bipolar affective disorder, accompanied by the psychotic features of paranoia and suspiciousness. Dr. Henry opined that, at the time of the evaluation, respondent was not competent to practice law because respondent's thinking was characterized by disturbed and disorganized thoughts, and was not reality-based. In addition, Dr. Henry found that respondent lacked insight into the severity of his illness.

Dr. Henry further testified that, based upon the classic symptoms of bipolar affective disorder displayed by respondent, he disagreed with the diagnosis of Dr. Aagesen that respondent suffers from generalized anxiety disorder. According to Dr. Henry, respondent's treatment under Dr. Aagesen was therefore inappropriate because respondent's bipolar disorder has not been addressed. Because bipolar disorder is a progressive illness that will worsen if untreated, Dr. Henry opined that respondent requires a structured, secure environment, and medication with mood-stabilizing drugs.

When questioned about respondent's apparent ability to continue to handle legal matters without incident subsequent to his hospitalizations, Dr. Henry opined that because respondent's cases were primarily "simple matters," respondent was merely operating "out of rote and routine." On cross-examination, however, Dr. Henry admitted that he was unaware that respondent handled more complex legal matters after his hospitalizations.

The third and final psychiatrist called by the Administrator was Dr. Robert Galatzer-Levy, who interviewed respondent on three occasions in 1998: twice in February, and once in March, for a total time of approximately 2½ hours. Dr. Galatzer-Levy also examined respondent's past medical records, which showed that respondent failed to continue treatment after he had left the hospital, and had unilaterally decided to discontinue prescribed medication.

Dr. Galatzer-Levy diagnosed respondent as suffering from schizoaffective disorder, frontal lobe syndrome, generalized anxiety disorder, and personality disorder not otherwise specified, with borderline features. Based upon his findings that respondent's judgment was impaired, Dr. Galatzer-Levy concluded that, at the time of his evaluations, respondent was incapacitated from practicing law. However, on cross-examination, Dr. Galatzer-Levy acknowledged that he was not ...


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