County expands Mental Health Court to Issaquah
July 9, 2010
By Warren Kagarise
NEW — 12:30 p.m. July 9, 2010
King County plans to expand Mental Health Court — a groundbreaking program launched in the aftermath of a tragedy — to Issaquah by late July.
Launched as a pilot program in February 1999, the court uses a team approach to place defendants in treatment for mental illness. Supporters said the program bridges the gap between the mental health treatment and criminal justice systems.
The court accepts mentally ill misdemeanor offenders, and then monitors them during court-ordered treatment. Participants waive a trial and agree to participate in treatment.
The court assigns a team — including a judge, prosecutor, public defender, treatment court liaison and probation officers — to monitor defendants throughout the process. Participants can be jailed for straying from the program.
District Court and elected officials announced the expansion Friday at the Issaquah Courthouse.
District Court Presiding Judge Barbara Linde, King County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert, Redmond Mayor John Marchione and other dignitaries planned to attend the event.
Since the county formed the court, the service has only been available at the main courthouse in downtown Seattle.
“We wanted, the county wanted and the cities wanted access to the resources on a broader scale,” Linde said Thursday afternoon.
In addition to Issaquah, the county also added Mental Health Court at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent. Mental Health Court judges, prosecutors and employees plan to rotate among the three courthouses.
Linde described the Eastside and South King County expansions as “years in the making.”
Linde credited Leadership Eastside — a nonprofit leadership development program — for working to expand Mental Health Court beyond Seattle.
Members of the 2011 graduating class took on the court project as part of the leadership program and persevered to expand the program despite threatened budget cuts. Leadership Eastside President Stephanie Mapelli said the eight-member group continues to work on mental health issues.
The tragic impetus for the program came after a schizophrenic transient, Dan Van Ho, stabbed retired firefighter Stan Stevenson as he and his family walked through the International District after a Seattle Mariners game in August 1997.
Ho had been released from the King County Jail 11 days earlier, after a state psychiatrist found him to be mentally incompetent to stand trial for a theft charge.
The current U.S. attorney for Western Washington, Issaquah native Jenny Durkan, represented the Stevenson family after the death. The family received a $5.5 million settlement in the negligence suit. The case also prompted the county to reform how the criminal justice system handled mentally ill offenders.
Not long after the stabbing, then-County Executive Ron Sims convened a statewide task force to rethink the county criminal justice system. The group acted as a catalyst for the Mental Health Court.
The court opened in 1999. King County became the second jurisdiction in the nation — after Broward County, Fla. — to create a mental health court.
In November 2007, King County Council members enacted a one-tenth of a cent sales tax increase to pay for mental illness and substance abuse programs, including the court.
But budget woes threatened to gut the program as officials struggled to bridge a budget gap last fall.
Lambert, the Issaquah representative on the nine-member council, led the budget team then. The budget writers steered sales tax dollars to keep the Mental Health Court open, and tapped into the funding source to expand the program to Issaquah and Kent.