A mental disability that prevents him from keeping his thoughts on track renders Robert S. Treff incompetent from helping in his defense on criminal charges, according to U.S. District Court Chief Judge Bruce S. Jenkins.

Treff is a former Internal Revenue Service employee who killed his wife around Christmas 1986; he is also charged with attempting to murder the IRS district director, Carol Fay, with a fire bomb.The Provo resident is serving a term of one to 15 years in Utah State Prison for the shooting death of his wife, Jennifer. In the alleged bombing attempt, he faces a federal grand jury indictment on charges of assault, intimidation, possession of an unregistered firearm and illegal use of a firearm.

Last week, Jenkins received a report by psychiatrist Dr. Breck Le-Beque of the University of Utah. The report indicated that Treff is unable to effectively help in his defense. The defendant contested that, so Jenkins held a special noon hearing Monday, accepting testimony from LeBeque.

The doctor said Treff is diagnosed as suffering from hypomania, which means he is unable to keep on track with a thought. It is manifested by rapid speech, failure to concentrate, quick swings from topic to topic, and compulsive talking.

The recommended treatment in this case is lithium, a drug that stabilizes moods. It is possible that Treff could be treated at the prison.

Jenkins said it was a close call, but a preponderance of evidence convinces him Treff can't effectively assist in the defense. He committed him to the custody of the federal government for up to four months' treatment.

He could be certified as competent to assist in his defense during that time, in which case the trial could be rescheduled. If he isn't certified by then, another status report must be given to Jenkins.

Treff has asked that his lawyer, Joseph C. Fratto Jr., be removed as lead attorney. Instead, he wants to represent himself, with Fratto as assistant. Jenkins has not ruled on that request.