Blowing the whistle on improperly finding competent to stand trial
March 11, 2014 1:35 PM   Subscribe

Melody Jo Samuelson, a staff psychologist at California's Napa State Hospital (Previously), recently won a million-dollar judgement against the state and her supervisors. She had been told to declare mentally ill patients competent to stand trial.

Samuelson’s court complaint alleged that James Jones, the Napa hospital’s chief of psychology, “made it clear … that he was committed to … returning patients to court as competent to stand trial.” To do that, Jones lowered evaluation standards and pressured staff to use unreliable methods to determine patients’ competency, according to the complaint. One assessment technique, the complaint said, used a “mock trial” method that prepared patients to answer evaluation questions by rote memorization.
posted by larrybob (19 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
And people's lives are in their hands?
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 1:55 PM on March 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yyyyyyyyup, pretty much.
posted by Scattercat at 1:57 PM on March 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Napa State has all kinds of awful problems. I'm not surprised (and completely horrified) that this should be one.
posted by rtha at 2:07 PM on March 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Some state officials have no scruples about committing major criminal acts in order to secure conviction for even minor offenses. And of course, they cover it up. What's newsworthy about this is not that it happened, but that we heard about it at all.
posted by Hylas at 2:07 PM on March 11, 2014 [13 favorites]

Agree with Hylas -- it makes living in the world pretty challenging, knowing how many of us are at the mercy (through no 'fault' of our own) of basically unscrupulous and apparently unfeeling people.

Instead of seasoning justice with mercy, they've decided to use lye.
posted by allthinky at 2:36 PM on March 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Some state officials people in power

...let's not make this about public bureaucracies in particular.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 3:41 PM on March 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Some state officials people in power

...let's not make this about public bureaucracies in particular..

Yeah, power corrupts and all that. But there is something noteworthy here.

It happened in a public bureaucracy. The purpose of a bureaucracy is so that no one person can do stuff like this.

This isn't a simple case of "bad person", its a case of "how did this happen within the context of government, and how can we insure it never happens again?"
posted by hal_c_on at 4:27 PM on March 11, 2014 [6 favorites]

I wonder if this will have an effect on the people who actually stood trial when they shouldn't have.
posted by merelyglib at 4:52 PM on March 11, 2014

aaand this is what you get when you privatize the penal industry.
posted by Sphinx at 5:28 PM on March 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

This country has difficulty dealing with the mentally ill. At least in this one instance someone is being held somewhat accountable.
posted by evilDoug at 7:00 PM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Jones, and two employees, proctor Deborah White and supervisor Nami Kim

Are those people who blackballed her still in positions of power? True justice here would be the court ordering those people demoted to entry-level positions... kind of like what they did to the whistleblower.
posted by crapmatic at 7:31 PM on March 11, 2014

Glad she had the courage to fight this.
posted by childofTethys at 7:36 PM on March 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Last fall I spent some time browsing DOJ press releases. I was surprised at the abundance of non-prosecution/deferred prosecution agreements. Instead of prosecuting, say, the Miami Police Department for civil rights violations, MPD agrees to a court-monitored settlement with DOJ.

After reading this story, I wondered: Was there ever a non-prosecution agreement between this hospital (or its supervising agency, or whatever) and the DOJ? Yes, there was, in 2006. If you're interested, the findings are here, and the letter specifically calls out Napa State Hospital.

Lawbreaking banks get similarly light wrist-slaps. These agreements are a weak deterrent against unlawful conduct.
posted by compartment at 8:52 PM on March 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

...let's not make this about public bureaucracies in particular..

Public officials and public employees are in a special position as far as evading consequences for wrongdoing.

Yes, some private execs manage to get to the same kind of status, but in most private sector situations, someone at the middle-upper management level like the Napa chief of psych could be fired immediately, and would have been after creating a scandal like this.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 5:07 AM on March 12, 2014

My Mother worked at Agnew State Hospital in the seventies. I'm not surprised at ANYTHING a California State Hospital would do. You should hear the war stories.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:34 PM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Compartment, thanks for bringing that to light. Looks like it was a five-year agreement, so should be expired at this time. Probably time for someone to bring a new lawsuit based on this information.
posted by larrybob at 3:28 PM on March 12, 2014

There are CRIPA (Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act) publicly posted compliance reports from the various California State Hospitals based on the 2006 settlement, which lasted until 2011.
posted by larrybob at 3:37 PM on March 12, 2014

I'm thrilled by this verdict but obviously Jones, Kim, and White should be paying more themselves, lose their jobs, and face criminal prosecution too.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:34 AM on March 18, 2014

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