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In 1973, the Massachusetts Legislature established the Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee (MHLAC) to secure and protect the legal rights of persons involved in mental health and retardation programs in the Commonwealth. MHLAC, appointed by the justices of the Supreme Judicial Court, consists of fourteen judges and lawyers who are knowledgeable and experienced in mental health law.

The work of MHLAC is carried out by a small staff of lawyers who seek to make full use of the law to ensure that the rights of persons who are or may be regarded as mentally disabled are recognized and protected.

Over the past 27 years, MHLAC has fulfilled its statutory mission through
legal representation of individuals, families, and associations of people involved in the mental health system; participation in the legislative process to promote and advance their legal rights; and participation in state and federal administrative processes to ensure that rights granted are effectively implemented and that services that individuals are entitled to are actually delivered.

MHLAC's advocacy work reaches individuals and families who have experienced such problems as denial of access to community-based care and discrimination on the basis of disability. MHLAC also aids adults and minors in public and private facilities who need legal advice about commitment and discharge and the rights to receive or refuse treatment. The recently-enacted Act to Protect the Five Fundamental Rights mandates that all programs and facilities doing business with the Department of Mental Health ensure access to attorneys and advocates of MHLAC and other legal service organizations.

The legal staff of MHLAC provides legal referrals, information, and advice to individuals, lawyers, mental health professionals and the general public. MHLAC reviews new developments in mental health, housing, family, and disability civil rights law through its legal journal, the
Advisor, and publications such as the Mental Health Law Guide and the Managed Care Packet.

MHLAC and its staff contribute to a wide range of education and training for judges, lawyers, and others to maintain quality legal representation and improve the administration of justice when issues related to mental health and disability are presented. MHLAC also serves as Committee for Public Counsel Services Regional Coordinator for attorneys handling civil commitment and mental health treatment cases in Suffolk, Middlesex and Essex counties.

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