New York Governor George Pataki illegally ordered twelve sex offenders, scheduled for release from prison, to be committed to New York's Manhattan Psychiatric Center (MPC), between September 23 and October 21, 2005. On November 2, 2005 New York Supreme Court Justice Jacqueline Silbermann granted the petitioner's unopposed motion to proceed anonymously in a habeas suit against the MPC.
Frustrated at his inability to persuade politicians to pass civil commitment legislation for sexual predators, Gov. Pataki contrived to take the law into his own hands. The twelve fell prey to Pataki's orders to push the envelope" in interpreting Section 9.27(a) of New York's Mental Hygiene Law (MHL) which allows involuntary confinement of dangerous mentally ill persons.
Assistant Attorney General Edward J. Curtis defended Pataki's actions saying that prison superintendents properly applied for confinement orders and had each prisoner examined by two psychiatrists who recommended hospitalization. Upon arrival at a state hospital a third examination was conducted.
Steven Harkavy, deputy director of Mental Hygiene Legal Services (MHLS) and Does' counsel, argued that the law makes no provision for prison superintendents to initiate civil confinement.
If the legislature would have wanted the prison superintendent as an applicant then it would have said so," he argued.
However, Justice Silbermann held that § 9.27(b)(4) allowed an officer of any public...agency" to request review for civil confinement.
Still, serious flaws riddled Pataki's plan. The Court held that the petitioners were deprived of the due process protections afforded to prisoners under the provisions of Section 402 of the Corrections Law, and were being illegally detained.
Sadie Ishee, attorney for MHLS pointed out that state law first requires court approval before examinations can be conducted. If approved, examinations are conducted by impartial, court-appointed psychiatrists who notify MHLS and a prisoner's attorney if it is decided that a prisoner should be committed.
Judge Silbermann also recognized that The phrase in need of involuntary care and treatment, is defined in MEL § 9.01 as meaning a person ...whose judgment is so impaired that he is unable to understand the need for such care and treatment.'" She went on to say, that some of the petitioners may involuntarily have been placed in the mental health system by executive fiat is a possibility which this court cannot ignore.
They clearly didn't follow procedures," agrees Harkavy.
Civil libertarians are calling Pataki's methods official lawlessness" and accuse him of political posturing and pandering." They accuse the governor of positioning himself for a bid at the 2008 presidential nomination.
It is entirely appropriate for a court to require politicians, including the governor, to follow procedures set down in the law," said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
On November 15, 2005 the Court ordered the release of the disgruntled dozen. That order was stayed pending an appeal by Pataki's possee.
Sources: New York Post, New York Times, Associated Press
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