PsychRights
                   Law Project for
              Psychiatric Rights

PsychRights March 15, 2005 Newsletter

Hi Everyone,

You are receiving this e-Newsletter because we believe you are interested in the work of the Law Project for Psychiatric Rights (PsychRights) in fighting forced psychiatric drugging (and electroshock) through the courts by exposing the faulty science behind these so-called "treatments."  If that is incorrect please just let us know by e-mail to jim@psychrights.org and we will take you off the list.    We only sent three of these out in 2004 and while we expect to send a few more than that in 2005 we won't be sending more than one in any given month unless there is some really important news.   Our e-mail server was somewhat screwed up after I sent the last report and a lot of e-mail bounced (didn't make it through) during that period.  It is working now.

2005 Action Conference on Human Rights in Mental Health -- Washington, D.C., April 29th-May 2nd.  MindFreedom/Support Coalition International is putting on a conference titled "Activism for Human Rights in Mental Health: How the Law Can Support Grassroots Action for Human Rights in the Mental Health System,"  April 29-May 2 in Washington, D.C.   This conference will have a limited number and amount of speaking (but Bob Whitaker, author of Mad in America will be one of them) as it is designed to develop an action agenda and then have people go out and work on it.  I am one of the facilitators and PsychRights is proud to be involved in supporting and planning for this Action Conference.

There are six facilitated tracks: There is also a protest against PhRMA, the lobbying arm of Big Pharma scheduled for Monday, May 2nd.

The Conference registration is only $145 and it includes a reception meal on Friday evening as well as breakfast and lunch on both Saturday and Sunday for each conference participant. 

Complete information about the Action Conference is available at http://mindfreedom.org/mindfreedom/action_conference.shtml. There is a wide range of lodging options listed, including very low cost ones.

So, if you are interested in joining with people who are committed to fight against abuses of coercive psychiatry attending this conference is a must.    There is a very limited amount of funding available for scholarships for those who want to roll up their sleeves and work on this, but don't have the funds to attend.   Donations to the scholarship fund will be very much appreciated by MindFreedom for those of you who can't come but want to help.

Montana State Hospital/Montana Mental Disabilities Board of Visitors  In our 2004 Year-End Report, we reported that six people from Montana State Hospital had contacted MindFreedom about forced drugging and other rights violations and that we hoped to mount an effective campaign there.  The number eventually grew to 8 and in January I started advocating for a specific individual.   This irritated them enough that their attorney wrote me a letter saying I was engaging in the unauthorized practice of law in Montana, which could jeopardize my license to practice law in Alaska.  http://psychrights.org/States/Montana/PKohmanLtr.pdf I wrote back that I certainly had not engaged in the unauthorized practice of law in Montana ( http://psychrights.org/States/Montana/Response2PKohmanltr.pdf) and then wrote a seven page letter to the Chief Justice of the Montana Supreme Court about not only the unauthorized practice of law issue, but how the Montana Mental Disabilities Board of Visitors was violating the Montana Supreme Court's express direction regarding representation of psychiatric respondents.  http://psychrights.org/states/Montana/CJGrayLtr.pdf. I then wrote the members of the Board of Visitors about their Executive Director (proudly) being on record that the Board of Visitors was violating the Montana Supreme Court's express directions.  http://psychrights.org/States/Montana/jgBoVltr.pdf

Chris Pittman   Chris Pittman, under the influence of Zoloft, which is known to cause homicidal behavior, shot and killed his grandparents when he was 12 years old.  Andy Vickery, donating his services pro bono, put on a huge defense, but the South Carolina jury convicted him anyway and the judge sentenced Chris to 30 years in prison.  That was the minimum under the statute and under South Carolina law, he serves the whole sentence.  We contributed some legal work on behalf of Chris Pittman's motion to reduce his 30 year sentence based on the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.   Andy also discovered jury misconduct and has filed a motion for a new trial.  You can find out more information about this case at http://justiceseekers.com/.

Finances  Our finances are transparent with financial reports available at http://psychrights.org/about.htm. Our base of support has grown, with 43 separate donors contributing in 2004, which is up from 18 in 2003.  A more complete summary of our donation support can be found at http://psychrights.org/about/Donations.htm. We currently have enough money to pay some representation costs, such as expert witness fees or even copy costs. 

We will also be very grateful for any donations.  Our suggested levels of giving are:

Professionals  --  $1,000 per year
Other fully employed people  -- $250 per year
Low-income Survivors and other supporters  -- $5 per month

If you support PsychRights' work and can donate, please do so.

Myers Case.  In what we hope will be an important Alaska Supreme Court case on forced drugging, Myers v. Alaska Psychiatric Institute, the Alaska Supreme Court seems to be on a very slow track.  The appeal was filed almost two years ago and oral argument held over a year ago.  The Court ordered supplemental briefing in June of last year, which was completed at the end of September.  It seems they didn't even talk about the case amongst themselves until February so it very well may be a number of additional months before a decision comes out.  

In the Myers case, the trial court found:
[T]here is a real and viable debate among qualified experts in the psychiatric community regarding whether the standard of care for treating schizophrenic patients should be the administration of anti-psychotic medication
and
[T]here is a viable debate in the psychiatric community regarding whether administration of this type of medication might actually cause damage to her or ultimately worsen her condition
but ruled against us because the statute didn't make that relevant.  We assert that it is unconstitutional to forcibly drug someone against their will unless, at a minimum, the state can prove it is in the person's best interest.   We also assert that under applicable constitutional law, the state is required to exhaust any less restrictive alternatives first.   More information on this case can be found at http://psychrights.org/States/Alaska/CaseOne.htm.

Interestingly, we have been informed by the hospital that this case and PsychRights' other efforts have reduced the amount of forced medication.   We certainly know that in the few situations we have intervened on behalf of inmates* this has been true.  In fact, an e-mail or phone call questioning how this or that person could be considered to meet commitment criteria has resulted in those people being discharged quickly without forced medication.  The Myers case was a difficult experience for at least some personnel at the hospital (which is as it should be) and PsychRights believes that only by making forced drugging (and involuntary commitment) much harder to obtain will other options be seriously considered.  This certainly seems to be happening here and if we get a decision from the Alaska Supreme Court that the least restrictive alternative is a constitutional requirement we will have a lot of legal leverage to force the availability of such alternatives.  However, there is little doubt that additional litigation will be needed to achieve the actual availability of alternatives.

Informed Consent Case.  We are still looking for a plaintiff to file an informed consent case against the state hospital, Alaska Psychiatric Institute.  See, http://psychrights.org/States/Alaska/CaseTwo.htm

Forced Drugging in Prison Case.  The case we had going last year challenging the forced drugging regime in the Alaska Department of Corrections got dismissed on technical grounds.  It wasn't at all clear the judge was right, but we would have started it over.  However, our client declined to re-start the case.  Nevertheless, in the course of that case, the state essentially admitted it is violating the constitution under the rules laid down by the United States Supreme Court in Washington v. Harper, 494 U.S. 201 (1990), http://psychrights.org/research/Legal/WashingtonvHarper.htm. See, http://psychrights.org/States/Alaska/CaseThree.htm. We are currently working  on taking these admissions into a new case challenging the forced drugging regime in Alaska prisons as being unconstitutional.

Recruiting Attorneys and Psychiatrists.   Since I can represent people in Alaska, it is easy to get serious challenges going to the extent that I can possibly devote the time to do a good job on each case.   Even so, we have started a concerted effort to recruit pro bono attorneys in Alaska.  While I can theoretically get admitted in other states on specific cases and, in fact, am admitted in one case in another state right now, realistically we need more people.  The two key ingredients in any case are having (1) an attorney who will make a serious case, and (2) a psychiatrist to serve as expert witness for the defense.   For attorneys, there are rarely those that work in the system that are willing to make serious cases, but in the main, recruiting pro bono attorneys seems viable.  Most bar associations have pro bono coordinators and many law firms have pro bono programs.  With respect to psychiatrists, there are various ways to try and identify potential expert witnesses.  PsychRights is also making a concerted effort this year to recruit attorneys and psychiatrists around the country.  As was mentioned above, there is a modest amount of money from your generous contributions to pay for expert witness fees and other litigation costs.  In addition, PsychRights is available for technical support.

If you have any suggestions for possible attorneys or psychiatrists, please pass them along to me at jim@psychrights.org.

---------------
*The American Heritage Dictionary, Fourth Edition, defines inmate as: "A resident of a dwelling that houses a number of occupants, especially a person confined to an institution, such as a prison or hospital." (emphasis added)


James B. (Jim) Gottstein, Esq.

Law Project for Psychiatric Rights
406 G Street, Suite 206
Anchorage, Alaska  99501
Phone: (907) 274-7686)  Fax: (907) 274-9493
jim@psychrights.org
http://psychrights.org/

  Psych Rights
            Law Project for
       Psychiatric Rights

The Law Project for Psychiatric Rights is a public interest law firm devoted to the defense of people facing the horrors of unwarranted forced psychiatric drugging.  We are further dedicated to exposing the truth about these drugs and the courts being misled into ordering people to be drugged and subjected to other brain and body damaging procedures against their will.  Extensive information about this is available on our web site, http://psychrights.org/. Please donate generously.  Our work is fueled with your IRS 501(c) tax deductible donations.  Thank you for your ongoing help and support.