Judges forum addresses mental illness

http://www.nami.org

At tonight’s Judge’s Forum, which was held at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, each of the five candidates gave their thoughts and answered questions in order to gauge their mental health awareness.  Jack Rose, President of the Kenosha County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) organization, hosted and mediated the forum.  The audience consisted of about fifty people.  This is the third time that NAMI has hosted a public forum such as this one.

Each of the candidates was given the opportunity to give a few introductory remarks:

Ed Antaramian

A life-long resident of Kenosha, Antaramian has practiced law for 27 years.  He’s had experience with Chapter 51 hearings held at the hospital.  Now, these are held out of the community.  Hearings are more accessible and less challenging.  He’s also been a guardian ad litem, looking out for the best interests of his clients, some incompetent because of their age or impairment.  Antaramian is part of the Wisconsin Lawyers’ Assistance Program (WISLAP).  He’s attended trainings at Mendota, and he stated that First Step is an asset to the community and the police department.  He mentioned Kenosha’s Crisis Intervention Training, Veteran’s Court, and the Mental Health Court.  He’s aware that Kenosha is doing some things well, but there is room for improvement.  Money and reorganization are needed.

David Berman

A 19-year lawyer in Kenosha, Berman was in the U.S. Navy and graduated from Marquette Law School.  He’s had experience with Chapter 51 proceedings, and he’s been a circuit court commissioner hearing cases in small claims court, traffic court, restraining orders, and criminal cases.  He’s familiar with how courts work and his judicial role.  He mentioned Judge Milisauskas and Kenosha’s Drug Court, which assists in drug and alcohol problems.  He also mentioned the Mental Health Diversion Program.  Berman stated that he tries to find out why the individual committed the crime when dealing with drug and alcohol problems.  He mentioned the Mental Health Court and La Shanda Tolefree, its social worker, and Judge Warren and the Veteran’s Court.  This will be patterned after Buffalo, New York’s model, and will be implemented on a multi-county basis, either with Kenosha and Racine Counties, or with Kenosha, Racine, and Walworth Counties.  He mentioned diverting before a criminal conviction like the mental health court does.  It does not result in a conviction if the individual follows all conditions.  There has been an expansion of knowledge and treatment every day.  “The single greatest asset this county has is Jack Rose.  He’s a gem in this society.  If there are any issues I need some information on, he will be the first person I’ll call.”

David Celebre

A 25-year trial lawyer, he also has had experience in Chapter 51 involuntary commitments.  Celebre has also been involved in guardianships and represented the mentally incompetent.  The common theme is that these people deserve the most personalized and individual concern.  One needs to examine the facts and see proof.  As a judge, he stated that he would presume that the person is in the right state of mind at all times.  He would delicately and deliberately address the issues, and provide whatever intervention was necessary.  Celebre stated that he would sift through the evidence and then come to his conclusions.  There are services available.  He sits on the Human Services Committee on the County Board, and stated that there are grant dollars, programs and resources available.  He would rather divert the individual to services vs. labeling them.  He believes in giving all a fair determination.

William Michel

Michel has been a lawyer for 14 years.  He was a former prosecutor, a former guardian ad litem, and has handled Chapter 51’s and suicide attempts.  When he joined the County Board, he had to give his guardian ad litem position up.  He is the chairman of the County’s Judiciary Law Committee.  One of the things he saw during Chapter 51 hearings was people chained up and treated like criminals.  They instituted a camera at the hospital and one in the court room to provide dignity to these individuals and as a cost savings to the taxpayers.  Rose wrote a letter to the committee.  “I was the person that brought the Veteran’s Court forward,” he said.  During a local radio station interview, people were calling in upset and wanted to know why the veterans were being treated better.  Those people just don’t understand their situation.  Keeping these people out of the system saves money and keeps the community safer.  If they are locked up, the county ends up spending more money to put their kids in protective services.  He is involved with several other organizations, like the Kenosha Achievement Center, and the Court House Steering Committee.  He stated that the county has done an excellent job in educating officers.  NAMI, the County, and Gateway have an excellent program.  “Instead of being tough on crime, now we have to be smart on crime.”  He also mentioned the County Board as being a great organization with committees to help:  the Drug Court and the Diversion Program.  “We were the ones that brought this to the courts and Judge Milisauskas.”  This will keep people out of the system and will put safeguards in place.

Jason Rossell

Rossell was appointed to the position in November by the governor, so he’s been serving the last two months.  He worked for free for five months in the District Attorney’s Office, then worked for them for five years.  He’s had experience in criminal courts and has represented clients with mental defects or insanity pleas, competency hearings, etc.  There is a gap when the client is not competent to understand what’s going on.  One year of treatment is the limit.  Chapter 51’s are a problem in that they need to show immediate dangers.  A judge has to apply the law enacted and tailor sentences appropriately.  He stated that he has five cases currently in the Mental Health Diversion Program.  These offer a unique opportunity to meet services with needs.  No defendant is a “cookie cutter.”  Rossell mentioned the cycle of behavior changes and relapses.  He’s been involved in Chapter 980 cases involving sex predators.  “These,” he said, “I call the ‘Battle of the Two Psychologists.’  They both tell me the reasons why the defendant is treatable or not treatable.”  He stated that there is an overemphasis on criminal cases.  In all cases, he tries to keep the children with the parents, and find help for the parent with mental illness.  As a defense attorney dealing with mental illness, he stated that he understands the behavior and cognitive changes and the unique needs people have in order to live a happy life.

The first question presented to the panel was:  Give us your perspective on how mental health history comes into play when setting bonds, when sentencing, and in custody cases.

Berman:  There are two areas in setting a bond:  monetary conditions to ensure the defendant’s appearance in court, and non-monetary conditions.  He stated that the court has no authority to set bond on continued treatment.  Possibly, this is an area that needs some change.  Some people refuse to acknowledge they have a mental illness.  One must then look at the individual’s history and order treatment as a contingent factor in order for them to see their children.   In juvenile court, often this is the first manifestation of a mental illness (puberty or later).  What’s needed here is rehab and the offer of care for the juvenile, and the resolution needs to be tailored to get the person treatment.

Celebre:  In cases of setting non-monetary bonds, in the use of drugs without a prescription, continued treatment.  The court can require counseling to protect the public at large and the individual.  “Jails are not holding tanks for people with mental health illnesses, and drug and alcohol problems.  We must treat the problem, treat the addiction, through counseling, abstinence, and not having a repeat of the behavior.  We must balance the safety of the public at all times and present recurrent use of drugs or alcohol to see a change in the person.”  The County Board sifts and treats.  They have to remain fiscally responsible.  In the case of child custody cases, the parents influence the children.  The child shouldn’t be the brunt of the parents’ problems, which would just bring about a new generation of alcohol and drug abusers.  We must treat the identified conditions.

Michel:  As a judge, we rely on the attorneys to tell the story.  In his three months of doing only initial appearances, he never heard the words ‘mental health’ mentioned once.  A judge needs to spend time with the person.  NAMI and family members need to get involved.  Otherwise, the system loses track of the individual.  Diversion programs help people.  People with no insurance say, “Why treat these people?”  We have to help them, especially those with children, because they represent a cost to the community.  In family cases, he talks to the family and gets them involved.  Most of these people have strong families, church and beliefs.  These days, everyone is looking at the dollars.  In the long run, it will save money.  He urged the community to volunteer and help.

Rossell:  He believes history is the key word here.  Michel was correct in that, first, the judge needs to identify the mental illness.  Then, the judge must look at how the illness is expressing itself.  “People say, well that person had mental health treatment.  You don’t say that person had treatment for cancer, etc.”  There have been plenty of people who suffered with mental illnesses who held stable jobs.  “For example, a person with impulsivity.  How does it manifest itself?  With stealing items.  Then, once you know that, then you know how to treat the person.  Then, you can look at how it will affect the safety of the community, and order the proper medications, supervision, etc., tailored to the person.  You don’t take a blanket approach.”

The second question came from the Congregations United to Serve Humanity (CUSH):  There is a state-wide campaign to reduce the prison population by one half by 2015.  (Currently, there are roughly 23,000 people in the prison system.)  This would be for non-violent offenders who may have mental health or substance issues.

Celebre:  These people can get treatment while in custody.  Services are available out of confinement, services in the community.  These people can remain in the community without the community being in danger.  Mental health needs of the individual need to be reviewed in Mental Health Court.  There are grant dollars available.  We need to examine Intake Court.  What is the diagnosis?  Is a new medication needed?  There are sentencing guidelines for an OWI.  NAMI and the Mental Health Court, and social services are available.  With the proper diagnosis, you can prevent recurrence.  Don’t confine these people.  CUSH has the right idea.  One must evaluate each case.

Michel:  With the recession, everyone is concerned with saving money.  In California, Texas, and Florida, alternate courts are saving money.  He stated that he met with Judge Milisauskas regarding the Drug Court.  There are major changes and safeguards which would save money and keep these people out of prison and let them become productive members of society.  We don’t want revolving doors.  We’d have to take care of their kids.  “Be smart on crime, not tough on crime.”  These are all good things for a successful program.  It’s saving money, and it’s working.

Rossell:  This is good timing for this issue.  The people who are in prison are not there for their first offense.  If they had supervision or probation and if it was revoked, the person has to be incarcerated, but for how long?  Then, they’re under supervision again.  It’s called recidivism, the chances of re-offending.  “CUSH should get in contact with the Department of Corrections.  Last week, I went to training on evidence-based practices.  The reason the programs work is that it provides the court with individual services for the group with the highest risk of recidivism.  In Hawaii and New York, it doesn’t matter if it’s mental illness or addiction, the number one area is cognitive thinking.”  They are using modeling, mentoring, and training, and this has reduced the risk of reductions by 30%.  With less recidivism comes less incarceration.  That’s the only option the court has when the individual comes back.

Antaramian:  Echoing Rossell, one-half is a lofty goal.  You have to evaluate the population there and find out why they are there.  The majority are recidivists.  We must look at their mental illness and find out why.  It may be poverty or other aspects of their life.  Overcrowding in prison of criminals who are non-violent, like burglaries or embezzlements.  “To use Celebre’s word, “Who’s being warehoused?”  We must provide treatment options for people.  Intensive activity and individual treatment leads to little recidivism.  If we just allow them to pay the forfeiture and say get on with your life, they’ll come back.  Triggers kick in, and they don’t have ways to cope.  CUSH has a lofty and noble goal.

Berman:  The United States has the highest percentage of incarcerated adults, non-violent with mental health or alcohol drug issues.  And, most are in prison not with their first offense.  If we reduce the population, it will prevent recidivism.  How?  Through the diversion programs.  We need to go for pre-conviction, deferred prosecution, like the Mental Health Court.  The Drug Court involves the conviction first.  In speaking with Jim Truchan of Kenosha County’s Mental Health and Protective Services Department, he is in agreement with this.  We need to provide treatment before conviction.  The chances for recidivism are reduced by more than half.  We would reduce the prison population and spend the money on diversion programs.

As the hour was getting late, Rose threw out a couple more questions and said that anyone could answer them.  “Name one thing you’ll do for people of color with mental health issues.”

Berman:  You can’t change the sentences that were given before you.  “In my court room, I would set the example.  If it fits the model, they would go into the program, no matter their color.”

“Regarding the Crisis Intervention Training, there were three officers who went through the training in 2007 up in Appleton.  Thus far, 56 officers have gone through the training.  What do you think of it?”

Michel:  It’s an excellent opportunity.  I’m glad that law enforcement leaders are in agreement with the program.  The training was instrumental.  The three who were trained first shared what they learned with the other officers.  They learned as first responders how to de-escalate the situation.  “I’m proud that the chief and sheriff are in agreement.”

Antaramian:  Regarding the question on the people of color, the law is color blind.  When sentencing the person, one has to take into consideration culture awareness.  On the crisis intervention training, 30 officers were trained.  It’s a great program and it covers all shifts.  The public needs to be made aware of how to approach people appropriately so that they can make informed decisions.  It’s an excellent program.

Closing Statements:

Berman:  He thanked everyone.  As a judge, I’d be tough on crime, but fair.  People commit crimes for many reasons, but we need to treat one individually.  People want to be safe in their homes and in their community.  They want to be heard in the courtroom and kept free from personal attacks.  I would deal with them fairly and refer them to mental health programs, if necessary.

Celebre:  He thanked Rose.  “As a 25-year lawyer, I look at cases from many angles.”  My job is to service the community with its special needs.  Some never go to court.  “I would apply the law fairly and make rational determinations.  I’ve had experience with it all.  In court, I’d be the ‘arbiter.’  I would determine the needs and apply the law fairly.”

Michel:  He thanked NAMI for hosting.  There have been substantial changes in the justice court system.  Law enforcement officers have been trained.  They can use their discretion.  Recently, an officer brought a person into Chapter 51.  All who are dealing with the person need to know all the factors.  “Be involved in the community.”

Rossell:  He also thanked Rose.  He stated that he would try to be fair in all things.  Dr. Martin Luther King said, “We are to judge men by the quality of their character, not by the color of their skin.”  The Constitution gives all men certain rights.  “The hallmark of my court,” he said, “is that each person would be dealt with with dignity.  Each would be looked at with their unique needs.”

Antaramian:  He thanked all who attended.  He left the group with a quote from Ghandi:  “The greatest measure of a nation is how they treat their weakest.”  We have a ways to go.  One of the definitions of justice is to give each person his/her due.

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