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Originally published Saturday, April 13, 2013 at 11:54 AM

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Judge backs Wash. law on releasing mentally ill

A Pierce County Superior Court judge is backing the current state law on when the mentally ill should be released from Western State Hospital in Lakewood.

The Associated Press

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the law distinctly provides for docs and courts to make a joint commitment. i am not... MORE
the law distinctly provides for docs and courts to make a joint commitment. i am not... MORE

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TACOMA, Wash. —

A Pierce County Superior Court judge is backing the current state law on when the mentally ill should be released from Western State Hospital in Lakewood.

While reversing a March 13 ruling by a court commissioner in a case concerning two women committed to Western State more than two dozen times, Judge Jerry Costello said Friday he agrees that with the state law that says doctors, not judges should make commitment decisions, The News Tribune ( http://is.gd/bJMJkV) reported in Saturday's newspaper.

Recently, both women were released despite court orders to detain them.

One woman, 27, is a convicted sex offender, and has been institutionalized in various settings since the age of 14. The hospital released her eight days after a court order involuntarily committed her for 90 days. A day later, she assaulted staff members at an assisted-living facility.

The other woman, 44, is prone to self-mutilation, including stabbing herself in the abdomen and swallowing razor blades. The hospital released her in January, two months before the expiration of a 180-day commitment order.

Court Commissioner Craig Adams said the women were released for technically flawed reasons, despite state laws that give doctors wide discretion. He says the state's commitment system operates without legal accountability.

On Friday, Costello tackled Adams' legal reasoning while avoiding the issues surrounding the state's mental-health system.

"Medical, political and administrative decisions are not for this court to review," he said. "Observers may well wonder about the decisions that were made in (the women's) cases. Those are not issues for this court."

Costello basically restored the status quo. The arguments hinged on types of mental-health diagnoses and the slender difference between two legal phrases: "grave disability" and "likelihood of serious harm to self or others."

Costello came to a relatively simple conclusion: The hospital, not the court, has the final say on a patient's mental fitness, and that was what state lawmakers intended when they wrote the commitment laws.

"The Legislature plainly intended for experts to exercise their judgment about patient care and make release decision accordingly," he said.

For Adams to be right, Costello said, the state's commitment law had to be unconstitutional.

"The law as written is constitutional," Costello said. "The manner in which it has been applied is constitutional."

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Information from: The News Tribune, http://www.thenewstribune.com

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