- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 6, 2015

SEATTLE (AP) - A federal judge on Wednesday refused to approve a list of exceptions sought by the state Attorney General’s office that would give health officials more time before providing competency services to mentally ill people held in jails.

“The court declines to allow class members to be incarcerated for additional time based on now-existing barriers to timely services,” said U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman, who had issued a permanent injunction against the state Department of Social Services in April after ruling that keeping mentally ill people in jails for months before providing competency services is unconstitutional.

Lawyers for the lawsuit’s class members filed declarations for attorneys’ fees last week that totaled almost $1.3 million, plus $37,237 in expenses. Pechman previously ruled that the state is responsible for their legal costs but has yet to approve the final numbers.

Pechman’s injunction order set a strict seven-day deadline for people to receive services after a judge has ruled that they need competency evaluations or need to have their competency restored so they can participate in their defense.

Assistant Attorney General John McIlhenny had responded to the injunction by asking for additional time under certain circumstances. In response, Pechman said the state should fix the system instead of trying to change the rules.

The state wanted the seven-day countdown to begin when the department receives the order for evaluations or restoration, rather than when the judge signs the order, arguing that some courts take several days to transmit orders. Pechman said she knows that most orders are sent within one day of being signed and scolded the state for focusing on the instances where courts take longer.

Instead of asking for more time, the state should take a more active role in educating and collaborating with others involved in the forensic mental health system, she said.

“In other words, flaws in the system as it currently exists are not persuasive reasons why a better system cannot be developed,” she said.

The state also asked for more time when defense attorneys are not immediately available to attend evaluations, but Pechman said the state should hire more evaluators, offer evaluations at regular times and outside court hours and weekends to accommodate people’s needs.

Pechman only agreed to one requested exception. She said if the person awaiting competency services is receiving medical care, the state can seek an extension.


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