Archive for Courts

Family members say Joel’s Law could have saved murdered Spokane woman

By | January 19, 2015 | 0 Comments

If the Washington State Legislature passes “Joel’s Law” this year  — a bill that offers a way for families to appeal to the courts if their family members have been denied involuntary mental health commitment  — it comes too late for the friends and family of Sheena Henderson of Spokane.

Sheena Henderson’s father, Gary Kennison, said the law might have been able to prevent his son-in-law, Chris Henderson, from coming to  his wife’s place of work, where he fatally shot her and killed himself last July.

“We now have two children who are growing up without parents. Christopher, who committed this act, wasn’t a bad person,” Kennison said in a Monday morning hearing in the Senate Human Services, Mental Health & Housing committee.

Chris Henderson’s mental condition had been deteriorating in the months before the shooting, and he had been briefly hospitalized and his guns confiscated. But he was released from the hospital days before the shooting after assuring authorities he was no danger, and he collected his gun from the Spokane Police Department the day before the fatal shooting.

“There was no avenue whatsoever for us to go back and appeal that decision…. So I believe that Joel’s Law, had it been in place, it would have given me a tool to protect my daughter and she would have been here today,” Kennison said.

“Joel’s Law,” which is filed this year under Senate Bill 5269 and House Bill 1258, is named after Joel Reuter, who died in a shootout with Seattle police in 2013.

His parents, Doug and Nancy Reuter, came to Olympia from Texas to lobby the Washington State Legislature last year to pass the law. The bill passed the House unanimously, but was never brought to a floor vote in the Senate.

Joel Reuter had been treating bipolar disorder successfully for several years, but made a turn for the worse after starting chemotherapy for lymphoma. He died after shooting at police officers.

Joel’s family returned this session. Doug Reuter testified on Monday that he believes the designated mental health professionals are given too much leeway in making commitment decisions.

“They answer to nobody. The unilaterally decide who gets help and who does not get help,” Reuter said.

Nancy Reuter (left) and Doug Reuter speak to reporters after a hearing on "Joel's Law," named after their son.

All families want is the ability to make an appeal, he said.

“This will not only provide an avenue for family members to have someone else — a judge — look at all the evidence to determine whether they are a danger to themselves or others. And it gives the (designated mental health professional) a chance to review their files all at the same time,” Reuter said.

Reuter also criticized the fiscal notes from last year, saying the costs are overestimated they assumed ongoing mental health treatment, when the bill only addresses commitment.

One change in this year’s bill is a provision to give the mental health professional 24 hours to respond to the family’s appeal before the appeal is heard by a judge.

However, Shankar Narayan, legislative director of the ACLU of Washington, expressed concern over the rights of those who would be detained against their will.

“This is a human being, a person who’s interests might be different from their family members,” said Narayan after the morning hearing.

Mike De Felice, a public defender who works with mental health cases in King County Civil Commitment Court, said the changes could tie up designated mental health professionals in court, when they should be in the community making assessments.

De Felice and Narayan both made the argument that the best place for the investment is in community mental health.

“Olympia needs to fund outpatient treatment in the community, and we can avoid them coming into involuntary treatment,” De Felice said.

Legislators in both chambers and both parties pledged to get the bill passed.

“I have been working very closely with the Reuter family, and other parents with a similar story, who were unable to get help for their son after numerous attempts,” said Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Pierce County, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, in a prepared statement. O’Ban is also the chairman of the Senate Human Services, Mental Health & Housing committee.

Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, D-Mukilteo, said that since the issue was brought to the forefront last session, legislators have been hearing from families in similar situations.

“Across the state, legislators are now realizing that it’s becoming an epidemic,” Ortiz-Self said at a Monday afternoon press conference.

Doug Reuter said after the morning hearing that after the bill died in the Senate last year, he and his wife did not expect to return to Olympia for this session, but that Speaker Frank Chopp convinced them to return for another attempt to pass it.

“I thought everyone would forget Joel,” he said.

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Bill would reduce drug possession charge from felony to misdemeanor

By | January 16, 2015 | 0 Comments

Drug possession would no longer be a felony in Washington state, under a bill being considered in the state House.

Possessing one ounce or less of a controlled substance would become simple misdemeanor. The maximum penalty for drug possession now, as a Class C felony, is five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. House Bill 1024 would reduce penalties to a maximum of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Rep. Sherry Appleton, Poulsbo Democrat and prime sponsor of the bill, told a House committee Friday that reducing the charge would save the state millions and allow offenders to move on without the barrier of a felony. “We’re still going to hold people accountable,” she said.

A felony makes it difficult for offenders to find jobs, housing and more, Mary Clare Kersten of Sensible Washington told the committee. “Addiction is a illness and it should rightfully be combated with treatment instead of punishment,” she said. “A felony is a label we can’t shed,” she said.

Some worry the bill would encourage addiction. James McMahan Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs said the measure sends the wrong message. “It’s probably time we send the message ‘it’s OK to be sober,’ ” he said.

Appleton says reducing the charge would save the state in prison costs that could be used to fund education and other priorities. Candice Bock says some of that cost would land on cities — about $4.5 million next year.

Voters in California approved a similar measure last year. Lawmakers here tried to pass a similar bill last session, but it did not make it out of the same House committee.

Categories: Courts, Criminal Justice

DSHS seeks legislation for mental health competency services

By | January 7, 2015 | 0 Comments

The state Department of Social and Health Services will seek legislation this session that would allow it to provide some competency rehabilitation services outside of state psychiatric hospitals. The move comes after a federal judge ruled in December that wait times for criminal defendants in jail to be evaluated for competency to stand trial were too long and unconstitutional.

Jane Beyer, Assistant Secretary of Behavior Health and Service Integration at DSHS, told a joint legislative committee on Wednesday that the department acknowledged that some of the wait times were “inappropriate.”

“We do not agree with people waiting in jail as long as they are waiting in jail, and that’s why the governor in his budget had the funding request for additional evaluators and additional forensic beds at state hospitals,” she said.

Inslee’s proposed budget includes $8.8 million to open a new 30-bed forensic ward at Western State Hospital, five beds at Eastern State Hospital and additional staff to address court-ordered competency restoration services.

Currently, restoration services for people found by the court to be incompetent to stand trial are only offered at state psychiatric hospitals. Beyer said DSHS will ask for legislation that would authorize it to offer some of those services in other facilities, possibly modeled after crisis diversion centers in Fife and the Tri-Cities.

“There are individuals who have been charged with a misdemeanor or other low-level, non-violent felony that are willing to take medication,” she said. “I think we can appropriately balance public safety and clinical needs so we can provide competency restoration in places other than state hospitals.”

Otherwise, Beyer said the state will be “confronted with another ward and another ward at the state hospitals” at a cost of tens of millions of dollars in the future.

A trial has been scheduled for March 16 in the lawsuit against DSHS, which was brought by disability rights groups and ACLU of Washington.

McCleary school funding hearing set for Sept. 3, TVW will carry live

By | August 28, 2014 | 0 Comments

The Washington Supreme Court is ordering lawyers for the state to appear before justices to explain why the Legislature should not be held in contempt for failing to provide a complete plan for funding education.

TVW will air the hearing live on television at 2 p.m. on Sept. 3. It will also be live webcast at this link.

The state Supreme Court ruled in the McCleary case that the state is not fulfilling its obligation to fully fund education. The court has demanded regular updates from the Legislature since the 2012 ruling, and earlier this year the court gave lawmakers an April 30 deadline to explain how the state will pay for schools through the 2018 school year.

Legislators submitted a report by the deadline, but it didn’t include a plan. The report instead asked the Supreme Court to give “deep consideration” to the action taken by lawmakers this year, and recognize that “2015 is the next and most critical year for the Legislature to reach the grand agreement” to pay for education.

The plaintiffs in the McCleary case filed a brief this month asking the Supreme Court to take action if lawmakers don’t have a funding plan by the end of the year.

The court issued a show-cause order for the state’s lawyers to appear before the court to “address why the state should not be held in contempt for violation of this court’s order” that directed the Legislature to submit a complete plan for funding education.

Categories: Courts, Education, McCleary

Supreme Court race: Mary Yu declares candidacy, Bruce Hilyer decides not to run

By | May 15, 2014 | 0 Comments

Former King County Superior Court Judge Bruce Hilyer will not seek election for the state Supreme Court seat formerly held by Justice James Johnson, who retired at the end of April.

Gov. Jay Inslee recently appointed King County Superior Court Judge Mary Yu to fill out the remainder of Johnson’s term until the November election. Yu filed this week to officially enter the race.

Hilyer said in an interview that he did some “soul-searching” and discovered that he has found satisfaction in helping parties resolve disputes out of court. He is currently working for Seattle-based firm Judicial Dispute Resolution.

“I’ve decided that’s my first priority and to not seek election to the court,” Hilyer said.

Hilyer filed campaign committee paperwork in April with the state Public Disclosure Commission. He submitted an email to the PDC on May 6 withdrawing the filing.

TVW this week interviewed Yu about her appointment to the state Supreme Court — watch that segment on “The Impact” here.

Categories: Courts, Election

Gov. Jay Inslee appoints Judge Mary Yu to Washington Supreme Court

By | May 1, 2014 | 0 Comments

King County Superior Court Judge Mary Yu was appointed Thursday to the Washington Supreme Court, becoming the sixth woman on the court, as well as the first Asian-American, Latina and openly gay member.

Yu will fill the seat of Justice Jim Johnson, who retired Wednesday from the court for health reasons.

“She has a very, very unique combination of life experiences and legal experiences to bring to this court,” said Gov. Jay Inslee, who announced the appointment at the Temple of Justice with all nine members of the high court present, including Johnson.

Judge Mary Yu and Gov. Inslee

Yu served 14 years on the King County Superior Court, and was a prosecutor under the late Norm Maleng.

She is the daughter of two immigrants, her mother from Mexico and her father from China.

Speaking at Thursday’s announcement, Yu paid tribute to Johnson, saying he “served with honor, he remained true to his beliefs and to what he believed is right.”

Johnson was known as one of the most conservative members of the court,

Yu said she was “proud to come from the ranks” of the state’s trial court judges, describing them as the “work horses” of the court system.

“While I am from King County, I want each of you to know I am truly and earnestly committed to serving all the people of the state of Washington,” Yu said.

She must run for election in November to keep the seat and fill out the two years remaining on Johnson’s term.

TVW taped the announcement — watch it here.

Senate debates charging defendants for public defense

By | February 17, 2014 | 0 Comments

Criminal defendants with assets would have to pay a portion of their public defender costs, under a bill passed by the Senate.

Currently, those costs are covered by cities and counties who pay for attorneys for those who can’t afford it, and bill supporters say that is becoming a burden on cities and counties. SB 5020 would allow a defendant’s assets to be taken into consideration when determining whether he or she qualifies for a public defender.

Sen. Adam Kline (D-Seattle)

Sen. Tim Sheldon (D-Potlatch)

Sen. Adam Kline (D-Seattle) argued that asking defendants to include their assets as part of the determination would violate the sixth amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees the right to being represented by an attorney in a criminal court matter.

“When we include in the categorization of people people who can afford to pay for their lawyer folks that are earning at the bottom — 125 percent of the federal poverty level — then we have a problem. We are burdening the exercise of a very important constitutional right,” he said.

However, Bill sponsor Sen. Tim Sheldon (D-Potlatch) argued the bill would enable the courts to increase the number of people who get public defenders.

“By requiring individuals to partially or fully pay for their defense when they can afford it we are providing more money for people to have a defense that do not afford it,” he said. 

The bill passed 27-20, and will go to the House for consideration.

Categories: Courts, Criminal Justice

A history of the Fish Wars: 40th anniversary of the Boldt decision

By | February 12, 2014 | 0 Comments

From arrests to apologies, the passionate battle between Native American tribes and Washington state over fishing rights has been intense and lengthy.

Photo credit: The News Tribune

Wednesday marks the 40th anniversary of a federal court ruling that affirmed treaty fishing rights for tribes. For the 80 Indians still alive who fought for their rights to fish in Washington’s waterways, they might finally get closure.

House Bill 2080 would erase criminal records  and clear the names of Indians who were arrested during what is known as the civil rights movement of the Pacific Northwest: The Fish Wars.

A glimpse of history

In 1854, Washington tribes gave the U.S. two million acres of land in exchange for money, three reservations and access to traditional fishing rights under the Treaty of Medicine Creek. Similarly, the 1855 Treaty of Point No Point ensured Indians had a right to fish.

However, as salmon populations declined, the state implemented new regulations on net fishing in Puget Sound rivers. The state wanted tribal fishermen to be held to the same standards as non-tribal fishermen, but Indians ignored regulations.

This confrontation sparked the “fish wars” which intensified during the 1960s and 1970s.

Hank Adams, a Sioux from Montana, played a significant role in getting this issue national attention.  He set up protests, fish-ins and rallies, and he even got Marlon Brando to participate in a demonstration in Olympia.

The Native Americans were instigating confrontation — and the police responded violently.

Sept. 9, 1970 marked the most extreme raid when Tacoma officers and other agents arrested 72 tribe members — including ten juveniles — using tear gas and firing shots.

Finally, federal government got involved and filed the lawsuit U.S. vs. Washington. In 1974, U.S. District Judge George Boldt ruled that the tribes were entitled to up to 50 percent of the harvestable salmon and the ruling known as the Boldt decision was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court five years later.

The long-awaited decision had a powerful impact on the tribes.

Photo credit: The News Tribune

The former Washington Supreme Court Justice Gerry Alexander, who was a young attorney at the time said, “This sent shockwaves, not only through the commercial fishing community but to the public at large. That decision really ignited a lot of pride and energy in the Indian community.”

Moving forward

The Native Americans may have won in their fight for justice, but the ruling could not erase the past. Decades later, the criminal records from the arrests still impact about 80 tribal members and often stop them from getting loans, adopting children or leaving the country.

Now, lawmakers in House Community Development, Housing and Tribal Affairs Committee are trying to give the convicted Indians a change to expunge their records. Under the measure that is expected be considered on the House floor within the next few days, tribal members could apply to the sentencing court to revoke their convictions if they were exercising their treaty fishing rights and not convicted for a violent crime. (more…)

Bill proposes harsher penalties for felony DUI

By | February 4, 2014 | 0 Comments

Lawmakers Tuesday considered doubling the possible penalties for felony driving under the influence. Prosecutors say some are at risk for reoffense without community supervision. Driving under the influence becomes a Class C felony on the fifth offense in Washington.

Rep. Brad Klippert (R-Kennewick)

HB 2506 sponsored by Rep. Brad Klippert (R-Kennewick) would make it a more serious Class B felony instead.

“These people are getting out after serving their time, and there is no supervision whatsoever. And when they are not under supervision, they are simply getting intoxicated, and getting behind the wheel again and committing the same old crime over and over again,” he said. 

A Class B felony has a penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of $20,000. The bill doesn’t change the seriousness of the crime, but gives law enforcement the ability to add community supervision on top of a prison sentence, says Amy Friedheim, a prosecutor in King County.

“It’s allowing us now to give them the 12 months of community supervision,” she said. “They are using up their entire statutory maximum in the DOC (Department of Corrections). And they are not getting any kind of community custody afterward.”

The bill also applies to people who drive with marijuana in their system with a THC concentration of 5.0, which is the legal limit set by Initiative 502. Medical marijuana advocate John Novak says many patients exceed that level with their medications.

“I get to the point where I can drive. I rely on cannabis to be honest with you. And this has been proved by my doctors. They have never taken my driving license away because of the cannabis stopping the seizures to the degree that it has.”

Medical marijuana advocates say a DUI should be based on impairment, not on specific THC levels.

Rep. Sherry Appleton (D-Pouslbo)

Rep. Sherry Appleton (D-Poulsbo) wondered if legislators could impose the community supervision without putting DUI on the same level as other serious crimes.

“Alcoholism is a disease. And what if we raise this to a Class B felony? There is manslaughter, and assault and other things that gravely injure people, and it’s sort of the on the level with murder. And I am not inclined to go there,” she said. 

However, Friedheim said that Appleton’s suggestion is not possible under current Class C sentencing.

“There’s no legal way to give them any kind of supervision after they’ve reached their statutory max,” she said.

The House Public Safety Committee also heard several other bills relating to driving under the influence:

  • HB 2344 – Concerning ignition interlock device requirements in vehicle sales.
  • HB 2503 – Concerning the operation of a vessel under the influence of an intoxicant.
  • HB 2728 – Concerning impaired driving.
The committee also heard HB 2549, about sentence enhancement for attempting to elude a police; HB 2507  about increasing the punishment for vehicular homicide and HB 2705, which is about reserve peace officers.
TVW aired the proceedings. Watch the hearing in our archives.

Families seek help for mental health commitments

By | February 3, 2014 | 0 Comments

Doug and Nancy Reuter testified Monday that their son, Joel Reuter, might not have died in a shootout with Seattle police if his family could have convinced authorities to commit him for his deteriorating mental health.

Doug Reuter described to the House Judiciary Committee how their family tried in vain for authorities to decide that Joel’s increasingly erratic beliefs and behavior rose to the level of involuntary commitment.

“I was told that if he had a loaded gun in his hand with his finger on the trigger, then we

Joel Reuter

could get him help. That’s exactly what Joel had in his hand on July 5,” Doug Reuter said before breaking down in tears. “And the help they gave him was to kill him”

The Reuter family and other family members of people with mental illnesses told legislators Monday they need more help getting their loved ones into involuntary treatment. House Bill 2725, and its companion Senate Bill 6513, would offer a way for families to appeal to the courts if their family members have been denied involuntary treatment.

Joel Reuter had been undergoing treatment for bipolar disorder, but he stopped taking his medications. His friends also tried to intervene.

“We contacted the Adult Protective Services. We were told there was nothing we could do. We called the crisis hotline. Same thing. Police. Same thing. We contacted therapists. Same thing,” Reuter’s friend Kathleen Johnson said.

After Reuter died, a counselor at Harborview Medical Center told Katie Wixom, another of his friends, there was nothing anyone could have done to force him into treatment.

“She said all of us here knew Joel and we wanted to help Joel but there’s not a system to allow us to help him,” Wixom said.

Under the current involuntary treatment law, a designated mental health professional must sign off to commit someone involuntarily. The patient must be at grave risk to oneself or others, either through threatening to harm someone or oneself, or through becoming unable to take care of one’s basic needs.

House bill 2725 would allow immediate family members to petition the courts if the patient is denied involuntary commitment by the mental health professional. The courts can review denials and could  reverse the decision, taking the family’s testimony into account.

However, Mike De Felice, a public defender who works with mental health cases in King County Civil Commitment Court, testified in opposition. He says the bill would put a strain on an overburdened court system.

“This system is already so overwhelmed that our particular court had to turn a waiting room into another courtroom to deal with these cases each day. And now we’re talking about creating a third courtroom,” he said.

Also speaking in opposition, David Lord with Disability Rights Washington says the proposal would be ineffective without addressing overcrowding in hospitals.

“If you just change the law, and if you don’t have places for people to go, then I don’t see what you have done,” he said.

But families of the mentally ill say the bill would catch people who are falling through the cracks.

“We’re desperate. My son has lost just about everything. He insists he is not mentally ill, that everyone else is responsible for his difficulties,” Steve Danishek told the House Committee. “It’s one more tool for us to appeal to the courts for help. We desperately need your support on this bill.”

The companion bill was heard Monday in the Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee.

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