Friday, February 09, 2001

Pickett repeated pattern of failing, blaming others

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] TV crews set up near the home (left) of Robert W. Pickett on Tyler Avenue in Evansville, Ind., Thursday.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
| ZOOM |
        Robert W. Pickett saw liars and conspiracies all around him.

        Vengeful bosses. Incompetent lawyers. Spiteful judges. These are the forces Mr. Pickett blamed time and again for the failures and frustrations of his life.

        They were part of a personal drama Mr. Pickett acted out for decades on his job, at school and in the courts.

        Usually, the drama ended with mental breakdowns or suicide attempts.

        On Wednesday, it ended with gunshots outside the White House.

        The 47-year-old Evansville, Ind., accountant has not spoken publicly since he was shot in the knee by police Wednesday after firing his pistol at the White House.

  Robert Pickett sent a copy of a letter to The Enquirer last week describing his despair over a long dispute with his former employers at the Cincinnati IRS office.
Photo imageText only
        But Mr. Pickett's extensive legal history tells the tale of a man who repeated the same pattern of destructive behavior until it finally led him to Washington.

        The pattern typically began with a personal failure that was soon followed by anger against whoever he blamed for that failure.

        “The poor guy had great expectations and they didn't turn out,” said Joseph Yocum, an Evansville lawyer who once represented Mr. Pickett. “He was trying to live up to things, to his own expectations.”

        Too often, however, Mr. Pickett fell far short of his goals. His court record suggests the cycle of failure and blame began in 1971 when Mr. Pickett washed out of the U.S. Military Academy.

        He quit after only one semester, blaming fellow cadets for harassing him. “He couldn't take it,” Mr. Yocum said.

        Around this time, those who knew Mr. Pickett began to see signs of the mental instability that would plague him throughout his adult life.

        That instability would become a serious issue in the mid-1980s when Mr. Pickett went to work as a tax auditor at the Internal Revenue Service in Cincinnati.

        After several years at the IRS, Mr. Pickett began to argue with his supervisors. He claimed “corrupt” managers were not allowing valid tax deductions.

        IRS officials declined comment, but it's clear the dispute quickly became personal to Mr. Pickett. He would eventually file at least seven lawsuits that blamed the IRS for causing personal problems ranging from his poor job performance to his mental illness.

        Mr. Pickett even accused one supervisor of conspiring to commit “manslaughter” by driving him to suicide.

        He said he attempted suicide twice while working for the IRS but received no support from his employer, only reprimands for missing work.

        Mr. Pickett wrote a letter to his boss saying he would accept a temporary demotion, and he later signed a settlement agreement for back pay after the IRS fired him.

        But once again, he blamed others for the setbacks. He claimed the demotion was involuntary and argued that the settlement agreement was invalid.

        Mr. Yocum tried to convince the IRS to take Mr. Pickett back but lost an administrative hearing. He said the case might have turned out differently today because employers now have a better understanding of mental illness.

        “They could have made some accommodations for him,” Mr. Yocum said of the IRS.

        That argument became the basis of almost every lawsuit Mr. Pickett would file in the next 15 years.

        With every failure, his resentment and frustration grew. First he blamed opposing lawyers. Then he blamed judges. Finally, he blamed his own lawyers.

        “Everyone was no good,” Mr. Yocum said. “From the attorney general of the United States to the lawyers to a couple of judges. Everybody.”

        A psychiatric evaluation stated that Mr. Pickett found it difficult to trust therapists, attorneys and many others involved in his life.

        Magistrate Timothy Hogan, who presided over Mr. Pickett's most recent lawsuit, said Mr. Pickett was intelligent but unstable. He said he warned Mr. Pickett on several occasions to stop calling his opponents “liars.”

        “He just kept calling them names,” Magistrate Hogan said.

        In 1995, Mr. Pickett sued his own lawyer, Janet Eaton, after another legal setback. He blamed Ms. Eaton for failing to file documents on time or to mount a defense.

        But in a letter to Mr. Pickett, Ms. Eaton explained that he was the one who missed crucial deadlines and who insisted on making improper legal claims.

        The cycle of failure and blame played out one more time last week when Mr. Pickett received notice that his 1999 federal case was nearing an end.

        He was given 30 days to explain why his case should not be dismissed.

        An apparently furious Mr. Pickett penned a letter to the IRS, President Bush, the attorney general and The Cincinnati Enquirer. In it, he took one more swipe at everyone he blamed for ruining his life.

        “My death is on your hands,” he wrote. “I have been the victim of a corrupt government.”

        Five days later, he was shot outside the White House. Mr. Yocum said he doubts his old client intended to hurt anyone.

        He said Mr. Pickett probably just wanted a bigger audience to hear how he had been wronged.

        “I don't think President Bush had anything to worry about,” Mr. Yocum said.

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