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King County working on strategies to reduce crowding in Involuntary Treatment Act Court

Summary

Providing space options for a vital court service

Story

Civil commitment is the fastest growing category of superior court cases, and the Metropolitan King County Council is calling for solutions to provide the Involuntary Treatment Act (ITA) court with the space it needs to serve patients and their families.

“Given the space constraints at ITA court caused by the 60 percent increase in our caseload over the past seven years, not to mention the anticipated increase in filings once Joel’s Law takes effect on July 24, 2015,” said the Honorable Ken Schubert, ITA Court Judge, King County Superior Court. “The court greatly appreciates the Council looking for additional space to meet the needs of this vulnerable population.”

Senate Bill 5269, known as Joel’s Law, allows family members to petition the court to review an involuntary commitment decision for their family member, if a Designated Mental Health Professional (DMHP) does not recommend commitment within 48 hours of a request for investigation.

“Any family that has had a loved one go through court as part of the Involuntary Treatment Act understands that it’s a demanding and emotionally exhausting process,” said Councilmember Rod Dembowski, the prime sponsor of the motion. “The dedicated attorneys and judges who staff the ITA court work tirelessly, day in and day out, on behalf of their clients and our community. They need adequate facilities to do their work.”

“I’m encouraged by the swift support of my colleagues in dealing this issue. We absolutely need to provide our courts with the resources they need to manage this important function,” said Councilmember Kathy Lambert, chair of the Council’s Law, Justice and Emergency Management Committee and co-sponsor of the motion. “Families need space to meet and work with staff. The petitions being heard by the ITA court are critical to assisting people in crisis. They need our help.”

The Council gave its unanimous support today to a motion that asks the County Executive to provide the Council by August 17, 2015 with a report describing options and strategies to alleviate crowding and other space limitations for the ITA court.

“The need for additional space to conduct the business of the Involuntary Treatment Court is a real concern, and I appreciate the Council helping to raise awareness surrounding this issue,” said County Executive Dow Constantine. “The good news is we have a permanent solution at Harborview Hall, and we’ll have a proposal for an interim solution by mid-August. I appreciate the Council’s support for considering and funding these urgent space needs.”

The King County Superior Court’s ITA court is housed on the Harborview Medical Center campus. It hears and resolves petitions for the involuntary commitment of adults and minors, thereby providing judicial oversight to the process of imposing involuntary mental health treatment. Under the Washington State Involuntary Treatment Act (ITA), a person can be civilly committed for defined periods of time if the person, “as the result of a mental disorder, presents an imminent likelihood of serious harm, or is in imminent danger because of being gravely disabled.”

The caseload for the Involuntary Treatment Act court—which involves the Department of Public Defense and the King County Prosecutor’s Office—has risen faster than any other category of superior court cases over the last several years, from 2,420 in 2008 to 3,852 in 2014. The ITA court caseload for 2015 is approaching 50 cases on an average day, or more than 1,000 per month, putting major strain on the space housing the program.

“Our lawyers are currently working with laptops on top of file cabinets in a room smaller than the average office space for even one person,” said Lorinda Youngcourt, Director, Department of Public Defense.

The County’s tenancy plan for a redeveloped Harborview Hall will provide more space for the program, but not until 2018. Along with requesting options prior to 2018, the motion calls on the Executive to include cost information for identified options and address the possibility of moving more swiftly toward relocation into Harborview Hall in a phased redevelopment process.
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206-296-1024
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