May 01, 2015

Silver Linings Bench Book

By Judge Patrice Lewis

At a time when specialized dockets are often seen as conflicting with time standards and case flow management demands, a consolidated mental health court docket may be an effective step in the right direction. Limited judicial resources and the need to increase overall productivity often cause those deciding to create a mental health docket to say no. However, our experience would suggest that consolidating all competency, criminal responsibility, and mental health presentence evaluation cases on one docket serves to help the court and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene provide efficient and effective services to our community at large and those in need for improved services and outcomes. To paraphrase Pat Solitano from Silver Linings Playbook, if life is a film, by helping our defendants implement a court-approved, mental-health-driven, self-improvement course, each community could develop its own Silver Linings Bench Book of available and accessible mental health and co-occurring services and have a judge supervise compliance on a consolidated criminal docket. Let me explain.

Our Maryland General Assembly tightened some language concerning defendants, competency evaluations, and the need to promptly move those found incompetent out of our local detention centers and into the state hospitals to restore competency. This resulted in a judge being designated in each of our district courts to review the current state hospital census for our district and to manage current competency hearings. Honestly, when I agreed to the assignment, I had no idea what that meant in terms of numbers, but I was confident I had the skill set to handle it. Fortunately, the State’s Attorney’s Office assigned a senior supervising attorney to the docket and the Office of the Public Defender assigned the deputy public defender. Parole and Probation assigned an agent with extensive experience, as did Pre-Trial Release. In other words, our team was so savvy, we thought we could knock out the work in no time and agreed to review files once a month.

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