Involuntary Committment Hearing September 11, 2009Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Committment Hearing, Involuntary Committment, Mental Hospital.
Tags: Involuntary Committment, mental illness
Harborview Medical Center in Seattle has a court of law attached to it to handle involuntary commitment (IC) cases. Although I didn’t know it at the time, Fairfax Hospital cases, including mine, were processed through the Harborview court. Under State law, a mental hospital must go before a judge to obtain a court order to hold an involuntarily committed (IC) person in their charge. The hospital has 72 hours after the IC person is admitted in which to go before a judge for that court order before they must release the IC person. I was admitted to Fairfax late on the evening of May 28, 2008. Weekend are excluded from that formula, so what should have been a 72 hour hold was actually a 120 hour hold.
About two hours before my involuntary commitment hearing, my husband got a call from Fairfax telling him about the hearing and that he could attend if he wanted. That call was the first he knew of the hearing, since nobody at Fairfax had bothered to tell him about it. Having no idea what to expect, he quickly rearranged his schedule and arranged for my sister, a licensed mental health counselor, to go with him. Like most counselors, my sister had never had any reason to deal with involuntary commitments, so they drove to the courtroom together, neither of them having any idea about what to expect.
Monday morning, 120 hours after my commitment, found the five of us (four others plus me) plus two guards bound for the courtroom. We walked through a gate and were loaded into a waiting van parked so close to the gate that there were only 2 steps from the ground to the van.The day was warm and full of sunshine, but the gray, dreary van interior was dark and cold, the dark tinted windows impossible to see out. A metal screen ran around the inside of the van, and a plexiglass panel separated our bench seats from the bucket seats in front. Treated like prisoners and unable to see out the windows, I had no idea that the hospital was only a few minutes from my home. I had no idea where we were headed except I knew that we were headed to court.
Filing out of the van, we walked into a large foyer past my husband and sister. I wasn’t told that they might be there, so I was shocked to see them. Still angry at my husband for my delusion that he had me committed, I was cold and unresponsive when he tried to hug me.
The guards escorted us down a drab hallway where we passed men strapped to red four-point restraint boards screaming at the top of their lungs as well as a teenage girl kneeling on the ground, her arms wrapped around her mom’s legs as she begged her mom not to commit her. Once we arrived at the dingy, dark little waiting room, we were told to get ready for a long wait and that a psychiatrist would see us before our hearing. I wasn’t told at that point but learned much later that a court-appointed psychiatrist had to evaluate us and provide their recommendation to the judge before the hearing.
Calling my name, an aide brought me to a little room. I sat down across from a man who told me that Devon (my attorney from Friday- See yesterday’s blog entry “Prep for Involuntary Commitment Hearing”) was ill and that he was my new attorney. He apologized that he was unfamiliar with my case, having just been given my case that morning. Great. I was about to battle for my sanity in front of a judge, and my lawyer knew nothing about the case. I couldn’t believe this was happening.
The law requires that a court-appointed attorney represent me in a hearing before a judge who would determine whether to involuntarily commit me to a mental hospital. Apparently, the law doesn’t require that the attorney who represented herself as mine on Friday be the same attorney who represented me the following Monday in court before the judge.
My new attorney left me in that little room, and, in time, in accordance with the State’s laws, a court-appointed psychiatrist arrived to interview me. She asked me questions about my mental health and state of mind. Within 10 minutes of arriving, she left, and my attorney returned, apologizing again about not knowing anything about my case.
My new attorney led me down a shabby hallway into a wood-paneled court room where a woman judge sat at a bench. I took a seat as my attorney rummaged around his stack of papers, producing a file that his clerk handed to the judge. She rifled through the file, then asked my attorney, “Involuntary Commitment?”. He replied, “Yes”. She signed the paperwork and a clerk handed it back to my attorney. She slammed her gavel down. Case Dismissed. Shocked, I got up and left the courtroom, never having had a chance to speak on my behalf.