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DPD provides representation to people in King County who face civil commitment to a psychiatric facility by the county’s Involuntary Treatment Act (ITA) Court. It is one of the busiest courts in King County: Each year, we represent approximately 4,000 clients who are involuntarily detained and have the right to representation in their hearings before a Superior Court judge or commissioner.

DPD has two units dedicated to this civil practice – small teams comprised of attorneys, mitigation specialists, and paralegals. As in other practice areas, our attorneys advocate for their clients based on their clients’ stated wishes. Occasionally, our attorneys will seek the appointment of a guardian ad litem to “stand in the shoes” of the client when the client is unable to provide direction to their attorney.

Under state law, a person brought to a hospital by the police or a designated crisis responder for an involuntary hold must have a hearing before a judge or commissioner within 120 hours – at which point they’re either released from the hospital or ordered to remain there for another 14 days. A person can be held against their will only if the court finds that the person is “gravely disabled” or at risk of harming themselves, another person, or property. After a 14-day hold, hospitals can seek a 90-day hold, at which point the client can request a jury trial.

Our attorneys represent clients at all of these stages in the process, bringing skill, compassion, and a client-centered commitment to this fast-paced system. They develop an ability to read medical charts; they become knowledgeable about psychological disorders; they understand the nexus between the criminal legal system and the involuntary commitment system. Our mitigation specialists are also engaged in the process, working to find housing, benefits, or specialized programs that can help clients. Paralegals provide important legal support to the defense teams.

“It’s challenging, meaningful work,” said Pat Valerio, an attorney who supervises one of the two units. “We represent people who are profoundly misunderstood. They want help but often don’t know how to get it. They also want their dignity and independence respected.”

Meanwhile, DPD continues to advocate for a different kind of response to mental health issues in our community. Our goal is to see resources diverted away from an expensive, court-based system that strips people of their liberty and dignity and to instead put resources into community-based programs that can provide housing, health care, and other supports to people living with chronic mental health disorders.  

For more information about our practice in the ITA Court, contact Brian Flaherty, assistant special counsel, at Brian.Flaherty@kingcounty.gov.