The mysterious M.J.

Curiosity about an unusual lawsuit filed by a secretive man brought me to a U.S. District Court courtroom to observe a hearing on a bright May day three years ago.

Though the defendants were medical providers - Washington University-affiliated doctors and Barnes-Jewish Hospital - the case wasn't about medical malpractice claims.

Instead, a plaintiff who insisted that he be known in the case only by the initials "M.J." claimed that in early 2010 Washington University barred him from seeing any doctors affiliated with the university. The reason? M.J. allegedly had behaved badly, repeatedly breaking appointments and once verbally abusing a staff member.

M.J. arrived for a hearing in U.S. District Judge John Ross's courtroom dressed in a fraying blue suit coat with electrical tape on the left lapel, stained black pants and black tennis shoes. The white-haired man settled onto a bench, scanned two newspapers, and asked the only other audience members - me and a courtroom observer - why we were there.

Asked later by Ross to speak about his attorney Matthew Chase's motion to withdraw, the plaintiff let forth in fluent legal language.

"If the court allows counsel to withdraw at this point, it will be ratifying and condoning a breach of contract," M.J. said, among other arguments.

I asked about his legal background after the hearing. He said he had been a member of high-IQ organization Mensa International and tended to "look into things."

Ross granted Chase's motion to withdraw. The attorney had cited "irreconcilable differences."

I never published a story about the hearing. Not enough news, not enough information about the case with its multiple sealed documents, or about its eccentric plaintiff.

But when I heard about the death of Richard Mark Jacobs and his likely connection to a famed lawyer advertising case, I remembered the plaintiff of the defamation case, whose last name - Jacobs - was shown in one document. Could it be the same man? Some of the characteristics seemed to fit. The fact that he seemed to have a legal background but wouldn't say he was a lawyer, for one: Richard M. Jacobs was disbarred in the 1990s. His contrariness, for another, which marked Richard M. Jacobs' dealings in other litigation and made him a good fit as the appellant whose case led to a U.S. Supreme Court overturning of restrictive attorney advertising rules.

I called the attorneys in M.J.'s case. The defense attorneys, Mark Bremer of Shands, Elbert, Gianoulakis & Giljum, and Jon Garside of Fox Galvin, declined to comment. Chase couldn't tell me much about his former client's background.

But a check of court documents showed that M.J.'s name had been revealed to be Richard M. Jacobs a little less than a year after the withdrawal hearing.

Ross said in a footnote in a March 2013 dismissal order that defense attorneys pointed to the actions of Richard M. Jacobs in a lien dispute that went before the Missouri Supreme Court. They used a description of Richard M. Jacobs's actions in that case to show the plaintiff had "engaged in this type of protracted litigation in other cases."

Missouri Supreme Court Judge Charles B. Blackmar, who argued for the Richard M. Jacobs of the famed advertising case, sat out the lien dispute. Conflicts are one frequent reason judges will decline to hear a case.

Like the Richard M. Jacobs of the advertising case, M.J. refused to quit after Ross's dismissal. He appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to take up his case.

Published: Fri, Jul 03, 2015

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