In the fall of 2020, Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Anne Burke convened the Illinois Mental Health Task Force Virtual Summit. The Summit, held by the Illinois Supreme Court in cooperation with the State Justice Institute and the National Center for State Courts, was part of the National Judicial Task Force initiative to examine State Courts’ response to mental illness. Justice Burke noted that the goal of the Summit was to “be a forum where representatives from the judicial, executive, and legislative branches, along with key stakeholders within the behavioral health system, such as providers, advocates, and individuals with lived experience, can come together to share information, discuss effective practices already in existence, and collaborate to create new systems for the early diagnosis and treatment of individuals suffering from mental health and substance use issues.”
The five Summit sessions were free and took place via Zoom on Tuesdays from September 29 through October 27. Chief Justice Burke opened the first session, recognizing the various stakeholders that came together from courts, agencies, and the community to deliver this vital program. She also highlighted how critical a coordinated response is to our community problems and thanked those involved for their efforts and willingness to come together. Mental Health Matters reported on each of the sessions in the October 2020 and February 2021 issues.
On December 1, 2020, there was an additional presentation. Attendees viewed the documentary The Definition of Insanity, featuring the mental health jail diversion project in Miami, followed by a panel discussion. See www.ncsc.org/mentalhealth for a link to The Definition of Insanity, a Found Object documentary by Gabriel London & Charlie Sadoff with support from the Matthew H. Ornstein Memorial Foundation, as well as the panel discussion and the Summit sessions and materials.
Following the December 1 presentation, I determined to dedicate an issue of Mental Health Matters to a discussion of the roles and professional limitations of those who may be involved in a mental health case: treatment providers, State’s Attorneys, defense counsel and judges. Recognizing the ethical dilemmas often faced by psychiatrists, State’s Attorneys and defense counsel in the context of a mental health court case, I reached out to practitioners from across the state, asking each to prepare an article discussing their roles in the mental health arena and court cases. By way of full disclosure, and in order to avoid any potential ethical or other conflicts, I did not ask any assistant state’s attorneys from the county in which I practice. I looked forward to a fascinating and enlightening series of articles. Unfortunately, I encountered some of the barriers that were referenced in the Summit’s opening session. Several psychiatrists declined to participate, largely due to expressed concern that their comments would be used at later trials and hearings to impeach their testimony in some way. Some assistant state’s attorneys agreed to participate, but ultimately did not submit contributions for publication. One in particular submitted an article to her office for approval in May. We have yet to receive a response. Finally, the Code of Judicial Conduct may be interpreted to preclude articles from the perspective of the bench. The ongoing effort to include all perspectives delayed the publication of this themed newsletter. My apologies to the contributors for that delayed publication.
As always, reader comments are welcome. Please join the discussion.