- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 23, 2015

SEATTLE (AP) - A federal judge has awarded the lawyers for mentally ill defendants who sued the state for warehousing them in jails $1.3 million in attorney’s fees and litigation costs.

U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman ruled in April that the state was violating the constitutional rights “of its most vulnerable citizens” by forcing them to wait for weeks or months in jails for competency services. She said a lack of appropriate funding hampered the state Department of Social and Health Services in providing enough staff and bed space.

The ruling comes as lawmakers struggle to finalize a state budget for the next two years.

Pechman issued a permanent injunction requiring the state to provide competency evaluations within seven days of a judge’s order. She also said if the person is found incompetent to participate in their defense, the state must provide treatment to restore competency within seven days.

The state has appealed the seven-day deadline for evaluations. They argued that some people taken into custody are under the influence of drugs and alcohol, and one week isn’t enough time for them to stabilize before being evaluated. Jane Beyer, assistant secretary for the Behavioral Health and Service Integration Administration, said they’re concerned about false-positives that would unfairly stigmatize those defendants.

After the lawyers filed their request for fees, the state challenged some of the charges.

On Monday, Pechman agreed with the state’s opposition to the lawyers’ request to be compensated for meals they ate while working on the case and to $349.30 in office supply charges. She reduced the total amount by $1,836 but granted the lawyer’s request for $1.26 million in fees and $35,400 in costs.

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Follow Martha Bellisle at https://twitter.com/marthabellisle

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