MOORLACH UPDATE — Largest Mental Hospital — January 17, 2014

Sometimes a MOORLACH UPDATE generates a news story, such as MOORLACH UPDATE — Kelly Thomas Reverberations — January 15, 2014. The Voice of OC, which has been good about covering the Laura’s Law topic, see MOORLACH UPDATE — Laura’s Law Legislation — April 26, 2013 and MOORLACH UPDATE — Laura’s Law – Plus — November 22, 2011, provides it’s perspective in the first piece below. There is one statistic that you should be aware of if you do not have time to read the piece in full: “According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Los Angeles County jail is the largest mental hospital in the U.S.”

The Los Alamitos-Seal Beach Patch covers the recent Appellate Court ruling (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Expensive Legal Matter — January 14, 2014) in the second piece below. This is another topic that is broader than it seems. Not all sex offenders have been caught and convicted (the California State Attorney General’s website will inform you of this). For example, today’s news includes a story of a Huntington Beach resident who was arraigned yesterday and charged with 12 counts. The Attorney General’s website will also remind you that “many sex offenses are committed by family, friends or acquaintances of the victim.” Consequently, banning those who are mandated to register from public parks gives a false sense of safety to the public and, as with the Social Host Ordinance, there are already laws on the books to address this matter. Therefore, spending more precious tax dollars, in my opinion, is not appropriate, especially if the California Supreme Court reaches the same conclusion as that of the Appellate Court.

Thomas Case Could Speed OC’s Adoption of Laura’s Law

By TRACY WOOD

Orange County, as a direct result of the Kelly Thomas case, could become the first large California county to implement Laura’s Law, legislation that allows the courts to order outpatient treatment for seriously mentally ill adults, Supervisor John Moorlach said Wednesday.

Moorlach championed local adoption of Laura’s Law in the months after Thomas, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and living on the streets, died following a July 5, 2011 beating by six Fullerton police officers. Moorlach said in a telephone interview if plans stay on schedule, the new law could go into effect in Orange County as early as July or August.

“It would be one of the things I’d like to accomplish in my last year,” said the termed-out GOP supervisor, who has announced he is running for a seat in the House of Representatives. “I’m seeing it through.”

In an email to his constituents, Moorlach said he was unaware of Laura’s Law until supporters of mental health programs for adults came to the Board of Supervisors following Thomas’ death.

Now, Moorlach reported, the county’s Health Care Agency is organizing the management duties necessary to implement the law, the Mental Health Services Act Steering Committee already has approved both the program and funding for the fiscal year that begins July 1 and a plan should be finalized by March.

By May, according to Moorlach, the Board of Supervisors should vote on a resolution to begin the program and then money will be provided in the 2014-2015 budget. That would allow the courts to begin hearing cases for out patient treatment of mentally ill adults, under Laura’s Law, as early as July.

“This would be a major policy decision for a major county,” Moorlach wrote.

Laura’s Law was enacted in 2002 by the Legislature and named for Laura Wilcox, a college student who was murdered by a Nevada County mental patient during the years the bill was making its way through the Legislature. The law gives the courts authority in the most severe cases to order an adult to accept specific outpatient treatment.

But the Legislature left it to each county to implement the law and none except Nevada County did. When Moorlach raised the possibility of Orange County adopting the law after Thomas’ death, the county counsel’s office said the county couldn’t finance it from Proposition 63, the 2004 ballot proposition that raised money specifically for mental health treatment.

But last year, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D–Sacramento, authored legislation that made it clear counties could spend Prop 63 money on Laura’s Law. The supervisors endorsed Steinberg’s bill and Moorlach and Health Care Agency Director Mark Refowitz traveled to Sacramento while the bill was pending to help round up support.

The bill specifies counties may use Prop 63 money to treat adults who either are unaware they are severely mentally ill or simply refuse medication.

To protect adults from being wrongly forced into treatment, Laura’s Law requires county health officials to work with the patient to seek voluntary treatment.

Only if that fails would the adult be brought before a judge, who could order the person to participate as an outpatient in medical treatment. During the court proceedings, a public defender would be assigned to protect the rights of the adult.

Those court costs, estimated at about $1 million a year, wouldn’t be covered under Laura’s Law, but other county health expenses would. Nevada County officials said that in their experience, few patients go all the way to the court before agreeing to treatment. The prospects of facing a judge — known as the "black robe effect" — causes patients to cooperate, officials said.

A key benefit of the new legislation is it will help families obtain outpatient treatment for their adult children. Currently, once someone turns 18, they are considered an adult and may refuse treatment, even if family and medical professionals have previously been providing medical help for mental illnesses.

When adult mental patients are hospitalized, privacy laws often keep families uninformed about help that a relative needs, said mental health activists.

“The system separates the family from a mentally ill person,” said Steve Pitman, a board member of the Orange County branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, known as NAMI.

Patients often refuse to take medications because either they don’t believe they are ill or to avoid the sometimes strong side effects.

Approximately 25 percent of the U.S. population experiences a diagnosable mental illness of some type, including depression, during their lifetime, said Pitman. But he said, mental illness carries a stigma that can keep patients from seeking or accepting treatment.

“No one would think of leaving a cancer untreated,” he said. “It’s (adult mental illness and accompanying problems, like homelessness) something we’ve chosen not to address and it’s to the detriment of us all.”

Serious adult mental illness is a major contributor to homelessness, with estimates as high as 40 percent of the street population suffering from untreated mental problems. As a result, untrained police, rather than trained mental health professionals are often left to deal with mentally ill adults.

According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Los Angeles County jail is the largest mental hospital in the U.S.

Thomas, 37, had been in and out of treatment for severe schizophrenia before being confronted by Fullerton police in the parking lot of the city’s bus station. Three officers were charged with second-degree murder or involuntary manslaughter, but a jury Monday acquitted two of the former officers on all charges and charges against the third are being dropped.

Until the late 1960s, California, like many states, operated a series of large mental hospitals for long-term care of adults with serious mental disabilities.

In 1967, the Legislature passed and Gov. Ronald Reagan signed the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, ending involuntary, indefinite commitment of mental patients to institutions in California. The state was leading a national trend away from locking up for years people with mental illnesses.

The idea, said the late Assemblyman Frank Lanterman, R-La Canada, at the time, was to have community clinics treat the long-term patients. But the Legislature never provided the money for the local treatment centers.

Please contact Tracy Wood directly at twood and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/tracyVOC.

Ban on Sex Offenders in Orange County Parks Struck Down: Where to Now?

The ruling strikes down laws banning sex offenders from parks in more than a dozen cities in the county.

Posted by Liz Spear (Editor)

Orange County prosecutors intend to ask the state Supreme Court to review appellate court rulings that struck down a ban on registered sex offenders from parks in the county and in more than a dozen cities, an official said this week.

"We’re going to request that the Supreme Court review it," said Susan Kang Schroeder, chief of staff for Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.

Rackauckas does not need the Orange County Board of Supervisors permission, but a majority of the board members have said they would rather let the issue go.

Supervisor Patricia Bates is "supportive of the law and she knows Tony’s going to be appealing. But she’s sitting where (Board Chairman Shawn Nelson) is at," Bates’ Chief of Staff Don Hughes said.

Nelson told City News Service on Jan. 10 that while he was "disappointed" in the rulings, he didn’t "want to spend any more money on it."

Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach agreed.

"I’m not really interested in taking it to the state Supreme Court, but I’m certainly willing to listen to what our district attorney has to say," Moorlach said. "I’d have to listen to some strong arguments to move forward."

Moorlach said he was "uncomfortable" approving the ordinance initially because of the constitutional issues, but voted for it anyway.

Moorlach also raised the issue of blanket bans on sex offenders when some convicts were merely guilty of urinating in public.

Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer said he fully supports a high-court review.

"I think we have to fight this full force," Spitzer said. "We cannot give sex offenders any room to breathe in our community, period."

A panel of Fourth District Court of Appeal justices struck down the county’s law and one in Irvine. Since the Irvine ruling was published, it acts as precedent and makes all of the bans unconstitutional.

In the Irvine case, JeanPierre Cuong Nguyen’s success in getting his misdemeanor conviction dismissed in lower court was affirmed. Nguyen was charged with violating Irvine’s ordinance because he went to one of the city’s parks in September 2012 without the written permission of Irvine’s police chief.

The county’s ordinance also made it a misdemeanor for a registered sex offender to enter a county park without the county sheriff’s written permission. The appellate justices ruling in that case stemmed from Hugo Godinez, a registered sex offender with Costa Mesa police, visiting Mile Square Regional Park in Fountain Valley on May 5, 2011, during a Cinco de Mayo celebration.

Godinez was found guilty, but a panel of Orange County Superior Court judges, who handle appeals in misdemeanor cases, overturned his conviction in April and sent the case to the Fourth District Court of Appeal for further review.

Ordinances banning registered sex offenders from parks are on the books in 15 Orange County cities. Most of them ban registered sex offenders, except in Irvine and Fountain Valley, which target those convicted of crimes against children.

The panel of justices ruled the local ordinances conflicted with state law, which takes precedence.

Spitzer said he doesn’t trust state lawmakers to toughen restrictions for registered sex offenders in parks.

"Unfortunately, they tend to look the other way when it comes to very strict sex offender enforcement," Spitzer said.

"If we allow the court to say the legislature owns that area and the legislature is not proactive, and have not been historically when it comes to protecting victims, then we’re really in trouble. We’ve got to absolutely convince the Supreme Court there needs to be local laws (against sex offenders)."

– City News Service

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