How the courts and Judge Lefkow unknowingly created a killer

BY JONATHAN LAMBERSON

On February 28, the husband and mother of U.S. District Court Judge Joan H. Lefkow were shot and killed in her suburban Chicago home by Bart Ross, a 57-year-old Polish immigrant. It has been widely reported that Judge Lefkow dismissed either a “civil rights” or “medical malpractice” claim brought by Ross, but the actual winding course of Ross’s litigation started long before it reached Judge Lefkow’s courtroom and, indeed, should never have reached there at all. What follows is the story of a deranged man and his decade-long encounter with the legal system.

A long-time smoker, Bart Ross underwent surgery in 1992 at the University of Illinois at Chicago Hospital to remove a cancerous tumor from his mouth. The surgery left him grossly disfigured. In 1995, Ross filed a medical malpractice action in Illinois state court alleging that his doctors had been negligent in the diagnosis and treatment of his cancer. The state court dismissed the suit on statute of limitations grounds, but it gave Ross leave to amend his complaint to allege certain claims that were not time barred. Instead of re-filing, Ross apparently chose to fire his attorneys and then argued that his attorney had conspired with the court to defeat his claim. The court entered a final dismissal order, and the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed.

Finding no satisfaction in Illinois state court, Ross turned to federal court, where he filed claims under 42 U.S.C.

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