Oklahoma Gov. Stitt Fights Mental Health Ordinance

Oklahoma Gov. Stitt Fights Mental Health Ordinance

Oklahoma Gov. Stitt Fights Mental Health Ordinance

A consent decree revamping the treatment of the mentally incompetent in Oklahoma county jails was denounced Monday by Gov. Kevin Stitt, hours after state Attorney General Gentner Drummond and plaintiffs’ attorney Paul DeMuro said it was a major victory for both taxpayers , as well as for the mentally ill.

“This is a big deal,” DeMuro said shortly after the consent decree was filed in Tulsa federal court.

The consent decree forces the state to reform a system that has caused people deemed incompetent to stand trial to remain in jail for months and even a year or more while awaiting court-ordered treatment.

In many cases, the evidence shows, people found incompetent remained in prison awaiting treatment to restore competency for longer than the sentences for the original charges.

But Stitt’s opposition is a serious setback for the deal. Under state law, the decree must be approved either by a concurrent resolution of the Legislature, which does not require the governor’s signature, or, when the Legislature is not in session, by the four-member Emergency Review Board, which includes the governor. and one of the designees, the Chief of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.

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“I have not and will never agree to have the people of Oklahoma foot the bill for a bad legal settlement,” Stitt said. “We have to ask why the AG is forcing a settlement that will result in an immediate win for plaintiffs’ lawyers in court. expense of Oklahoma taxpayers.”

Drummond and DeMuro, however, said the consent decree fits with a 2023 veto message from the governor that calls for “a thorough review of the methods and structures used to restore competency to those defendants who may be affected by mental health disorders “.

Stitt’s press release objected, saying the use of his veto message “implied that the governor approved the plan.”

Drummond’s statement cites the veto message and says he “hopes Governor Stitt and legislative leaders will support the plan.”

Stitt and Drummond have frequently clashed since the latter became attorney general in January 2023, replacing Stitt’s choice, John O’Connor.

Drummond is widely seen as a possible successor to Stitt, as is Stitt’s legislative ally, House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka.

In this particular case, Stitt seems intent on Drummond defending a case that Drummond says the state can’t win.

“AG Drummond is tasked with representing the agency and negotiating the best deal for all four million Oklahomans,” the governor’s press release said. “Instead, he proposed a settlement agreement that would give the department and the taxpayers of Oklahoma an open-ended settlement agreement.”

Stitt said he wants the new director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, Allie Friesen, to have a chance to address the issues.

Drummond said if the lawsuit goes forward, Oklahoma stands to lose.

“This consent decree saves taxpayers tens of millions of dollars by avoiding the costs and risks of protracted litigation,” Drummond said.

He also said it was the right thing to do for the people involved.

“Under this proposal, victims and their families will not have to endure endless delays in getting their cases resolved by the courts,” Drummond said in a news release. “This plan will strengthen the justice system and correct a process that has been riddled with problems.”

The decree would require the state to submit an implementation plan within 90 days and reduce the wait time for treatment to no more than 21 days in 14 months. Establishes fines for failure to meet a succession of deadlines.

Implementation is to be overseen by three expert consultants — one chosen by the state, one by the claimants and one by the other two consultants.

The three are Neil Gowensmith, a clinical psychologist at the University of Denver; John Petrila, attorney and consultant at Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute in Texas; and Dr. Darren Lish, a clinical psychiatrist at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

The settlement stems from a March 2023 federal lawsuit filed in Tulsa on behalf of four people held in county jails around the state and their “next friends” or representatives. It is known as the Briggs case because the first name listed is that of Leslie Briggs, a Tulsa attorney who is the first friend of two named plaintiffs.

The lawsuit was filed after advocates and organizations like the Tulsa-based Oklahoma Center for Law and Justice became frustrated with the state’s response to the situation. In their petition, the plaintiffs alleged that the Oklahoma State Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services violated their federal and state constitutional rights and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

How much it will cost to implement the consent decree is unclear. Stitt said it could be more than $100 million, but other estimates put the initial price at less than $10 million for the first year of the five-year deal.

The settlement includes immediate payments of $303,000 in plaintiffs’ fees — just over $300 an hour — and future costs and fees of $75,000 a year or $350 an hour, whichever is less.

By comparison, the state has allocated $10 million a year in recent years to fight the federal government.

If the state rejects the settlement and the plaintiffs win, the state would be liable for any attorneys’ fees the court deems appropriate.

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