Michigan court administrator offers road map for handling mentally ill

Share Tweet Share Email Comments Print DETROIT — Milton Mack spent years as a chief probate judge in Wayne County, watching as Michigan turned its prisons into ghastly expensive and failing institutions for the mentally ill. “The system is broken,” he said last week. “In nearly every state, jails and prisons are now the primary institutions for housing persons with medical illness” — with disastrous results. Lessenberry The Blade Enlarge | Buy This Image Costs have skyrocketed. Mentally ill prisoners sometimes fail to get treatment at all — and even when they do, “jails and prisons are not therapeutic environments.” On top of that, many of those locked up tend to “remain incarcerated much longer than other inmates, largely because many find it hard to follow and understand jail and prison rules.” They often don’t understand what they did wrong in the first place, and when released, they are among the most likely to soon reoffend and find themselves in prison again. But today, Mr. Mack, now Michigan’s State Court Administrator, has developed a serious proposal to fix things — and it would both offer better treatment for many mentally ill inmates and potentially save the state hundreds of millions of dollars annually. After working on it for a year, he presented a policy paper, “Decriminalization of Mental Illness: Fixing a Broken System” to the national Conference of State Court Administrators last month at their annual meeting in Arizona. They gave it, he told me, unanimous approval. For years, experts on criminality and mental health have tried to push what they call the “sequential intercept plan,” which sets standards for how the criminal justice system should interact when people with serious mental illness get in trouble. These intercept standards, which cover everything from a mentally ill person’s Continue Reading

Beshear administration official admits to raising contributions from state workers

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Walter Gaffield, an official of the Kentucky Personnel Cabinet during Democrat Steve Beshear's administration, admitted Monday to three ethics violations alleging he raised political contributions on state time and at his workplace.The ethics charges were released along with a settlement Monday at a meeting of the Executive Branch Ethics Commission.Gaffield, of Lexington, was a longtime state employee who served in the politically appointed job as the Personnel Cabinet's executive director of Administrative Services from 2010 to 2015. He left in December 2015 shortly after Republican Gov. Matt Bevin took office.In a settlement agreement released by the ethics commission, Gaffield admitted he used his position to solicit campaign contributions from other political employees within the cabinet during state work hours and in state offices. He also admitted that he made references to the workers' supervisors during the solicitations and that he collected some of the contributions while at his state workplace. Also: Impact of pensions on state budget will come into sharper focus soon Related: Andy Beshear waiting to give away Longmeyer contributions Under the settlement Gaffield agreed to pay a $6,000 fine and accept the commission's public reprimand. He declined to comment on the matter Monday.The three ethics counts against Gaffield say he made the unethical solicitations for a gubernatorial re-election campaign in 2010-12, for a Jefferson County judicial candidate in 2012-14, and for another gubernatorial campaign between 2014 and 2016.The charges and settlement papers do not identify the specific campaigns for which Gaffield was raising money at these times and do not allege any wrongdoing by those campaigns.But in the first time frame Steve Beshear was the only gubernatorial candidate running for re-election. Records of the Kentucky Registry of Continue Reading

Court-ordered call for FDNY diversity costs $3.3M for new, unbiased civil service exams

The controversial upcoming FDNY exam will be the most expensive test in the city's history, the Daily News has learned. The new civil service test, ordered by a Brooklyn federal judge who declared that previous FDNY exams discriminated against minorities, is expected to cost the city more than $3.3 million to develop and administer, officials said. The cost of the previous Fire Department exam, given in 2007, was $1.3 million, according to officials at the Department of Citywide Administrative Services. The huge jump in cost hasn't sat well in City Hall. "This litigation has forced some very costly mandates on the city for the development and administration of the test," said Julie Wood, spokeswoman for Mayor Bloomberg. "We have to pay for them." Judge Nicholas Garaufis last year demanded that the city alter its method of recruiting firefighters and blocked the FDNY - which is 91% white - from hiring any candidates until a new test was created. The judge also mandated that the new test be created by an outside developer, instead of within DCAS - the agency that normally creates the city's exams. The city hired California-based PSI Services to develop and give the test, which is expected to be given in the first few months of 2012. The requirement to hire an expensive outside consultant has sent costs soaring, City Hall insiders grumbled. The test will also for the first time be given on a computer and be overseen by a court-appointed special master, adding to the skyrocketing costs, officials said. Typically, DCAS' in-house test writing team consults with agency supervisors and union leaders to develop an exam. This time, the agency is not involved with creating the test and is only coordinating communication between PSI and the FDNY. The agency has so far paid PSI $526,000, according to a DCAS spokeswoman. Calls to PSI for comment were not returned. The head of the Vulcan Society, the black firefighter organization that is suing the city over Continue Reading

Free Press endorsements: Best choices for ‘the people’s court’

In addition to electing a president, 14 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, and dozens of other candidates for state and local office, voters in the Nov. 8 general election will select judges to fill seats at every level of the judicial branch.Today we share our recommendations for seven district court seats — three in Detroit, and one each in Dearborn, Novi, Southfield and Waterford.Often called the people’s court, Michigan’s approximately 100 district courts handle most traffic violations, all civil disputes involving up to $25,000, landlord-tenant matters and misdemeanors. Judges also handle criminal cases in which the maximum sentence is one year in jail. District court judges are elected in nonpartisan municipal elections for six-year terms and paid about $140,000 annually.The dearth of information about judicial candidates makes casting an informed vote in district court races especially difficult. Even judges and lawyers who appear in court nearly every day are often unfamiliar with many of those whose names they encounter on the judicial ballot.In evaluating voters’ options in next month’s election, we have attempted to identify lawyers whose breadth and depth of experience, reputations for honesty and fairness, and history of dealing effectively with clients, witnesses, litigants and opposing counsel recommends them to exercise the extraordinary power and responsibility Michigan vests in its trial judges.Besides evaluating the completed candidate questionnaires that anyone with Web access can peruse at freep.com/voterguide, we have consulted public databases, vetted the candidates’ criminal, financial and disciplinary histories, and interviewed judges, legal colleagues and former clients as well as candidates. WAYNE COUNTY 36th District Court (Detroit)Eight incumbent Detroit District Court judges will face just one challenger in their bids for re-election. But Continue Reading

Faulty construction, gushing leak make Bronx’s 4-year-old Hall of Justice ‘shabbiest’ court in N.Y.

Despite repeated promises to fix the problem-plagued Bronx Hall of Justice, the relatively new courthouse has fallen into an even deeper state of disrepair in the past year. The hulking four-year-old building at 265 E. 161st St. turned out to be a "lemon" because of shoddy construction and problems with its electrical infrastructure, sources said. In December, the Department of Citywide Administrative Services vowed to finalize plans for opening the courthouse's shuttered underground parking garage. It remains closed because of fears it will collapse. The department also promised to work toward opening the building's courtyard. The sprawling, treelined area was meant to be the architectural centerpiece of the structure, but has never opened because of safety concerns. Nine months later, nothing has changed. And new issues have bedeviled the courthouse this year:   Glitches in the computerized lighting system caused several blackouts last month, leading some judges to evacuate their courtrooms.  Elevators routinely break down and close on passengers' arms and legs.  The escalators are regularly out of service, leaving elevators packed to capacity.  Blaring fire alarms sound at least once a week for no reason.  A sixth-floor roof leak has been gushing for months, flooding the hallway and causing mold to grow outside courtrooms."It's still the shabbiest, most poorly built, least maintained courthouse in the city," one court employee said. "The worst part is, no matter how much we complain about broken escalators or elevators, nothing gets done." In response to inquiries from the Daily News, a Citywide Administrative Services Department spokeswoman said inspectors would be sent to investigate the faulty elevators. Spokeswoman Julianne Cho said repair work is being scheduled for the sixth-floor leak. She said the building's lighting system has been fixed to avoid blackouts. Cho blamed the continued Continue Reading

A fence to fall: State Supreme Court in Jamaica loses its barrier

The Berlin Wall isn't the only imposing barrier to be torn down. A 10-foot-tall iron fence encircling the state Supreme Court on Sutphin Blvd. in downtown Jamaica is to be removed, city officials said on Thursday. Local leaders had called the fence an "eyesore" that stood in the way of making the building's plaza more accessible to the public in a neighborhood in need of more open space. They had been pushing to have the black, wrought-iron fence removed because they said it sent a message that the predominantly minority community was unsafe. They argued the fence didn't make sense when just next door there's an open plaza filled with benches and trees in front of the Civil Court building. Following inquiries from the Daily News, city officials said the barrier will be removed. "The fence will come down," said John Feinblatt, the mayor's criminal justice coordinator. "Courts need to be part of the community, not set apart from it." However, no timetable has been set for when it will be taken down, he said. And it remains unclear whether any improvements will be made to the plaza itself. "That is fantastic news," said Greg Mays, chairman of the Downtown Jamaica Open Space Coalition. "It will just provide some additional, much-needed open space." He had written a letter to Mayor Bloomberg two weeks ago requesting the fence be taken down. Besides the small Civil Court plaza, the main open space in the neighborhood is the almost 12-acre Rufus King Park on Jamaica Ave., Mays said. "We're trying to change the perception of downtown Jamaica," Mays said. "This fence says this is an unsafe neighborhood, so why would you want to put your business here?" The fence was erected more than a decade ago, said Mark Daly, a spokesman for the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which oversees the property. It is one of three courts - and the only state court - in the city that has a fence surrounding it, he said. The other courts are in Continue Reading

Builder won’t get 260G owed, court rules

Talk about chutzpah. A contractor who tried to bribe city inspectors to get more work at Brooklyn's Borough Hall was furious the city refused to pay him $260,000 still owed on his contract. So he sued. He may have convinced a Manhattan judge he had an argument, but he ran out of luck at Manhattan's Appellate Division. Choon Won Lee's firm, FCI Group, was hired to replace blue slate paving stones and do general contractor work during the $6.3 million renovation of the historic municipal building in 2004 and 2005. He held a $757,000 contract, according to the decision. But just after he completed the work in November 2005, Lee left an envelope with $6,000 cash and a Christmas card for inspectors from the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which handles renovations at city-owned buildings. He was still owed $260,928.37 for the work he had just completed. "One of the envelopes also contained a copy of an August 2005 change order request in the amount of $101,708.82, which was awaiting the employee's approval for payment," the decision said. Lee admitted he left the cash, ultimately pleading guilty. But he also expected to get paid the balance of his contract. No way, ruled the Manhattan Appellate Division on July 28. "It is apparent ... Lee's attempted bribe was intended to influence" inspectors to approve the extra $101,000 in work, the ruling said. "Thus, Lee's corruption was not merely coincidental." The court ruled his crime effectively forfeited his contract. Back in 2004, Borough President Marty Markowitz was irked when he learned the job was repeating work done just 15 years earlier, when the city doled out $23 million for a renovation. This time, the city got a "windfall," said Sol Kodsi, Lee's lawyer. "His company did the work. They get off for free," he said. "The whole thing with Mr. Lee is that his intention was to give the employees a Christmas gift. In this case, he gave them a really big gift. They got Continue Reading

Oil cleanup pushes cost of replacement tennis courts to $56M

One mystery is solved, but another deepens around the waterfront site where the city is building recreation facilities to replace those lost to the new Yankee Stadium project. After the Parks Department announced at a recent community meeting that parts of Harlem River Park would be raised 5 feet, speculation on the reason ranged from a need to elevate the park above a flood zone to needing a "cap" of clean soil to protect parkgoers from extensive underground pollution at the site, which, oddly, went undetected until recently. Though the land, set to host 16 replacement tennis courts, is in a federally designated flood zone, and the underground oil tanks there will require millions of dollars in mitigation, the Parks Department said the decision to elevate part of the park was actually based on community input. "We listened to members of the community, who voiced a desire for the esplanade to be elevated so parkgoers could enjoy the waterfront views," unmarred by an elevated railroad track running along one side of the site, said Parks spokeswoman Jesslyn Tiao. The design change will not add to the cost of the park, which skyrocketed to $56 million after the recent discovery of seven underground oil tanks at the site, once home to an electrical plant. Just how the city could have missed so much contamination until now remains murky. PATJO Appraisal Services appraised the property for the Department of Citywide Administrative Services in 2006. "Without the benefit of an engineering study or a detailed subsoil report, we cannot comment on whether any subsoil conditions exist which could impair the utility of the site," the company noted in its report. An appraisal industry source told Bronx Boro News the party commissioning an appraisal normally would have an environmental study conducted by an outside expert, who would report findings to the appraiser. But in some cases, they added, the appraiser is specifically instructed to ignore subsoil Continue Reading

Bronx Family Court elevator delays

Getting a date to appear in Bronx Family Court is easy, but trying to get an elevator to the hearing on time is another matter. "It's a mess," said Maria Gonzalez, who has a case in Bronx Family Court. "The lines are long to get inside because the elevators are always broken." She said her friends have missed hearings because they couldn't make it up to the seventh- and eighth-floor courtrooms. A man who identified himself only as John said, "My case has been adjourned to next year because I missed a case today. I was stuck in the line. That means I will not get to visit my children for Christmas." Department of Citywide Administrative Services spokesman Mark Daly said one of the four public elevators inside the Sheridan Ave. building is being repaired, and that causes delays. "We are in the second year of a four-year project to modernize all of the elevators," he said. "The building opened in 1977, and they are due for replacement." Bill Nicholas, who heads Legal Aid at Bronx Criminal Court, said Bronx Family Court already is one of the busiest courts in the city, with the backlog even worse because of the long daily lines. "It takes one hour to two hours to get in," he said. "Some people get here at 9:30 a.m. and do not get in court until 11:30 a.m. As a result, these cases are being adjourned because people do not make their hearing on time." "It's a shame," said a Family Court clerk. "My heart goes out to people who get here on time for their hearings but end up missing their appearance because the elevators aren't working." David Bookstaver, spokesman for the Office of Court Administration, said the delays are a major inconvenience but he hopes the work is done soon. Bookstaver said when the new courthouse on 161st St. is open, it will house the Family Court on lower floors, so people will be able to take the stairs to get to their hearings on time. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Justice isn’t accessible in many NYC courts as several lack elevators or have poorly marked entrances: report

New York City’s courthouses and holding pens are rife with problems — from a lack of elevators for people who use wheelchairs to poorly marked, separate entrances — that make them inaccessible or unduly difficult to navigate for people with physical disabilities, according to a new report. Some detainees in Manhattan who are in wheelchairs have been carried down flights of stairs by jail guards after arrest to be booked and processed, while in Staten Island improvised criminal court proceedings for defendants in wheelchairs are moved to the first floor because there’s no elevator to the second floor courtroom, the investigation by the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest found. “One thing we found was that the only way for a person who has a mobility impairment to access a courthouse is through a makeshift arrangement that negatively draws attention to his or her disability,” said Navin Pant, a staff attorney and a co-author of the 20-page report which was provided to The Associated Press ahead of its release on Tuesday. “The injustices are found in all different ways and they really add up to a denial of equal access,” he said. The report, based on a review of 10 of the roughly 30 courthouses and holding pens in all five boroughs by attorneys and advocates for the disabled, is a first-of-its-kind comprehensive look at courthouse accessibility, said City Councilman Rory Lancman. The Queens Democrat will hold an oversight hearing on the matter and is introducing legislation that would require an annual accessibility audit by the city agency charged with maintaining courthouses. “I’m not sure there’s a culture of access in the courthouses where very simple signage could make it much easier for disabled people to navigate the courthouses,” he said. “The issue has been dealt with on an ad hoc basis for far too long.” In New York, Continue Reading