August 25, 2023

Pacifica Represents Coalition of Washington Counties in Lawsuit with Significant Implications for State Mental Health System

Pacifica Law Group senior litigation partner Paul Lawrence filed suit yesterday with a group of Washington county prosecutors against the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). The lawsuit on behalf of a coalition of 22 Washington counties and the Washington State Association of Counties (WSAC), carries significant implications for the state’s criminal and mental health care systems, and the communities they support.

Filed in Pierce County Superior Court, the complaint asks the Court to compel DSHS to comply with state laws that govern how DSHS treats “civil conversion patients,” people who have had criminal charges dismissed because county superior courts deem them mentally incompetent to stand trial. Under state law, these patients become the responsibility of DSHS, which is required to admit them for evaluations and potential civil commitment, and to fulfill other obligations, including informing law enforcement officials, prosecutors, victims, and other interested parties before it releases certain patients back into their communities.

The lawsuit alleges that DSHS has failed these obligations by refusing to admit civil conversion patients and releasing others without warning, “depriving a particularly at-risk population of the opportunity for mental health treatment to the detriment of both patient well-being and community safety.”

“Refusing to admit and indiscriminately releasing those with serious behavioral health issues — who were previously charged with felony crimes — without providing necessary treatment or proper notice to local authorities and crime victims is a clear dereliction of duty by DSHS,” Leesa Manion, the Prosecuting Attorney for Plaintiff King County, told The Seattle Times.

Paul Lawrence leads a Pacifica litigation team working on the case that includes partner Ian Rogers and associate Shweta Jayawardhan.

Click here for a PDF of the complaint.