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Administrative/Regulatory

Oct. 5, 2023

What is CARE Court and how can it help those with mental health issues?

CARE Court, an acronym for Community Assistance, Recovery, and Empowerment, aspires to help those diagnosed with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. Its objective is to proactively support individuals gravely impaired by mental health conditions, aiming to negate the need for further legal measures like conservatorships.

Megan A. Moghtaderi

Associate, Tredway Lumsdaine & Doyle LLP

Mental health is finally casting off some of its stigma. California, a pioneer in conservatorship law, has embraced a new legislative measure named CARE Court to address mental health in the state. Here’s a brief historical overview to shed light on this development.

The first hospital in the United States solely for those with mental illnesses was founded in 1773, while California’s first state-run mental health hospital was inaugurated in 1875.

Regrettably, these systems were tainted with widespread abuse. The media played a pivotal role in exposing such misconduct, exemplified by the May 6, 1946, Life magazine report titled “Bedlam 1946.” Although this report covered institutions outside California, its repercussions were nationwide.

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy transformed deinstitutionalization into federal policy by signing the Community Mental Health Act. Subsequently, California’s then-Governor Ronald Reagan signed the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act (Welfare and Institutions Code Sections 5000 et seq) into law. This act, named after State Assemblyman Frank Lanterman and California State Senators Nicholas C. Petris and Alan Short, aimed to “end the inappropriate, indefinite, and involuntary commitment of persons with mental health disorders.” This sentiment was supported by the U.S. Supreme Court in O’Connor v. Donaldson, (1975) 422 U.S. 563, which decreed that the state couldn’t involuntarily commit anyone who wasn’t a threat to themselves or others.

The LPS conservatorship’s intent is to “provide individualized treatment, supervision, and placement,” as outlined in Welfare and Institutions Code § 5350.1. An LPS conservatorship lasts for a year but can be renewed annually.

In 2002, California passed Laura’s Law, permitting county officials to mandate treatment for individuals with severe mental health disorders posing a threat. This leads us to our latest legislation.

On March 3, 2022, Governor Gavin Newsom proclaimed the establishment of a new sector within the California court system, devoted to aiding individuals with severe mental illnesses. This law, which mandated the inception of CARE Court, came into effect in 2023. Initially, seven courts will operate from October 2023, with the rest joining in December 2024.

CARE Court, an acronym for Community Assistance, Recovery, and Empowerment, aspires to help those diagnosed with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. Its objective is to proactively support individuals gravely impaired by mental health conditions, aiming to negate the need for further legal measures like conservatorships. As delineated in Conservatorship of Chambers, (Ct. App. 1977) 71 Cal. App. 3d 277, 284, 139 Cal. Rptr. 357, the term “gravely disabled” is not vague; it explicitly refers to those incapable or unwilling to meet basic necessities like food, clothing, and shelter.

CARE Court offers a holistic and comprehensive approach, complete with various support services ranging from medical care to housing.

Petitioners can file in the county where the respondent resides, is located, or faces criminal/civil action.

Two crucial forms for petitioners are CARE-100 (the Petition) and CARE-101 (an accompanying medical form). In certain cases, CARE-101 might not be essential, and evidence can be filed as per Welfare and Institutions Code section 5975(d)(2). These stipulations ensure rigorous medical documentation for the court’s judgment.

Post-petition submission, the court either dismisses the petition or orders the County of Behavioral Health to generate a report, notifying both parties.

If the county’s report corroborates the petitioner’s claims, a hearing date is set. The petitioner must attend this hearing; otherwise, the case is dropped. Subsequently, the County of Behavioral Health assumes the petitioner’s role.

Although all submissions remain confidential, the individual in question might eventually access the petition and reports, unless the court dismisses the initial submission.

Interestingly, private filers aren’t mandated to notify the respondent. Given the transient nature of some with mental illnesses, this might be a practical provision. Yet, if the County of Behavioral Health is directed to produce a report, they must personally serve the respondent.

The mental health landscape is vast, and CARE Court has a significant role to play. Only time will reveal the full impact of CARE Court on those with mental health issues, but it’s heartening to witness the development of a system dedicated to aiding California’s community.

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