Washington state to appeal order to pay lawyers of inmates $1.3 million

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 22, 2015 3:49 PM

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Washington state health officials will appeal a federal judge's order that they pay $1.3 million in litigation costs and fees to lawyers of inmates who sued the state over the time they spent in jail without mental competency exams and services.

U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman ordered an injunction in April requiring that the inmates receive the court-ordered exams and other services within seven days.

In late June, the judge then ordered the state to pay about $1.3 million in combined attorney fees and litigation costs, court records show.

On Tuesday, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a notice of appeal to the Ninth Circuit. His office declined to comment further.

"Washington is violating the constitutional rights of some of its most vulnerable citizens," Pechman wrote in April. "Our jails are not suitable places for the mentally ill to be warehoused while they wait for services. Jails are not hospitals."

Washington state law requires mental competency evaluations to be performed within seven days on defendants who have been charged with a crime, may be mentally incompetent and therefore unable to stand trial.

But in recent years, defendants were left languishing for up to six months, some in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, partly due to staff and funding shortages at the state's Department of Social and Health Services.

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Pechman found in December last year that the state had violated the due process rights of some pre-trial criminal defendants suspected of suffering mental illness.

In her April ruling, Pechman also wrote that the state had routinely flouted the court's orders, racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of contempt fees.

About half of the individuals ordered to undergo mental competency evaluations are ultimately found incompetent to stand trial, the judge noted.

(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Alan Crosby)