Family members struggle to help University of Chicago law grad who became homeless

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Many states are trying to figure out how to help people like 44-year-old lawyer Rob Dart, who is living on the streets of Los Angeles after rejecting his medication for psychosis. (Image from Shutterstock)

Many states are trying to figure out how to help people like 44-year-old lawyer Rob Dart, who is living on the streets of Los Angeles after rejecting his medication for psychosis.

The Wall Street Journal covered efforts by Dart’s family to help the man who had been co-captain of his high school football and track teams and co-president of his high school’s academic club. He went on to graduate from the University of Chicago Law School in 2007 and became a successful lawyer living in Southern California.

The Wall Street Journal stories are here and here.

Dart is ineligible to practice law because of failure to pay fees and complete continuing legal education, according to the State Bar of California.

Dart began hearing voices when he was 35 years old. At first, Dart returned to his mother’s home in Virginia. He received medication and therapy for two years.

He quit getting therapy and quit taking his medicine in 2022 during the COVID-19 pandemic. He eventually became homeless. He doesn’t think that he is ill. But his life has been full of upheaval.

“In the past year,” the Wall Street Journal reports, “Rob has been hospitalized, shot, housed, unhoused, a winner and a loser in court battles. Ultimately, he has shed every scrap of evidence of his life before illness: his connections to his son, family and most friends. He wanders the streets of greater Los Angeles, begging for change and lying down to sleep when he is tired. He believes people are controlling him via hypnosis, activated by a headlock.”

Dart’s sister and mother have traveled to California to try to help him. He often rejected them. Social workers sometimes persuaded him to enter the hospital, but he would leave without getting better.

Before his eviction from a California apartment, trash piled up, and his neighbor could hear him arguing with himself. He contested his ex-wife’s bid for a protective order preventing visits at the apartment with their son, but the judge ruled against him. In a second case, he successfully challenged a judge’s treatment order.

He was shot by a stray bullet in September 2023 while meditating at aroud 3 a.m. on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Dart’s mother, 75-year-old Sherry Dart, tried to help her son through California’s new mental health courts, created under a 2022 law that also expanded laws for civil commitment. She told the Wall Street Journal that the courts are difficult to navigate.

“I don’t know if I have all the papers,” she said. “I need to do it, but I feel like I’m going to be a failure.”

Like California, Washington allows civil commitment for reasons other than violence, according to the Wall Street Journal. And almost all the states allow court-ordered outpatient treatment.

There aren’t enough mental health professionals to help people with psychotic disorders, however. And California has only 15 inpatient psychiatric beds per 100,000 adults, according to a 2021 Rand study that said the number should be 51 beds per 100,000 adults.

Dart told the Wall Street Journal that going off his medications has offered insights.

In an email, Dart told the newspaper that he had “quite a stable and productive life before I underwent any psychiatric treatment or therapy.” He thinks that “people in your position often use medicine to try to keep people from learning what they otherwise could.”

He also explained why he disliked his medication in an in-person interview with the Wall Street Journal.

“It made me more afraid, less assertive, less confident,” he said. “Who wants to feel like that?”

According to the Wall Street Journal, people like Dart “present a conundrum for society: how to balance individual rights with people’s basic health? Solving the nation’s mental health crisis requires the participation of some people who don’t think they need help.”

Lawyers who need or want help can contact the lawyer assistance program in their state. The ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and contact information is here.

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