Your client, the respondent in a petition for her involuntary commitment to a locked inpatient psychiatric facility, was admitted to the hospital after walking into the emergency room in a rage, yelling that she had been suffering from a headache for days because the government implanted listening devices in her ears. Since her admission, she has insisted upon wearing a winter coat although it is the middle of summer and refuses to shower, speak with hospital staff, or accept antipsychotic medication. Where do you begin in preparing your case to prevent the judge from committing your client?
Prevailing on the merits in this hypothetical may not be as unlikely as it sounds. There are two major keys to success: focusing the judge’s attention on the statutory standard before the court and preventing the admission of illegal hearsay evidence. In addition, these two overall strategies—combined with the rest of the tactics discussed in this article—are not limited to commitment hearings. Rather, these strategies are helpful whenever your client’s mental health is at issue, which may occur in a variety of settings including child-custody disputes, hearings to determine parental rights, guardianships of incapacitated individuals, estate litigation, criminal defense, and immigration proceedings.