2019 Team of the Year: The Jail Wait Litigation Team

For eleven years, Colorado Lawyers Committee volunteers have been litigating against the Colorado Department of Human Services on behalf of thousands of individuals with mental illness and developmental disabilities who have waited or are waiting in Colorado jails for unconscionable amounts of time to be evaluated for competency to proceed to hearing/trial or to receive court ordered competency restoration. These individuals cannot proceed with defending the criminal accusations against them, until they are evaluated and/or receive treatment so they can participate in their criminal cases. 

In July 2016, the plaintiffs reached a (second) settlement requiring the State to evaluate individuals for competency held in the county jails within 30 days of receipt of the court order and essential police reports, and if found incompetent, to admit the patients for restoration treatment within 28 days of receipt of the order. Since June 2017, the State has been out of compliance with the timeframes, and more than a thousand people have waited in jails as long as 6 months to receive court-ordered restoration treatment. In June 2018, the plaintiffs filed a motion in federal court to re-open the settlement agreement. In November 2018, the Court found the State in breach of the agreement and out of compliance since June 2017 and subsequently appointed a Special Master to oversee the State’s plan for compliance and provide the Court and parties with a comprehensive plan for long-term compliance. In March 2019, after extensive negotiations, the parties reached a landmark settlement in the form of a Consent Decree which will result in a significant reduction in the criminalization of the mentally ill. The Decree requires the Department to move those most in need of psychiatric care from the jails to an inpatient hospital within 7 days, eventually evaluate all persons deemed incompetent within 21 days, to create a comprehensive plan to overhaul the competency system, hire numerous forensic clinicians to work in courtrooms across Colorado, refrain from legislating issues related to the Consent Decree without approval of the Special Master or Plaintiff, and will require the Department to obtain approval from the Special Master for all new plans, hires, and systems changes. If the State violates the Decree in any way, Federal Magistrate Judge Hegarty (who served as mediator for the negotiations) has the authority to impose remedies, including up to $10,000 a day in liquidated damages. In addition, because it will take the State two years to clear the wait list/back log, they will likely pay up to $10 million in fines each year until they are in full compliance. The fines will be placed into an interest-bearing account, and the Special Master, one Defendant and one Plaintiff representative will determine where the funds will go into the community to assist persons with mental illness. 

The honor was awarded to the Jail Wait Litigation Team of Iris Eytan (Eytan Nielsen LLC), Allison Butler (Disability Law Colorado), Sean Connelly (Connelly Law LLC), Caleb Durling (Fox Rothschild LLC), Mark Ivandick (Disability Law Colorado), Scott Llewellyn (Morrison Foerster LLP), Ellie Lockwood (Snell & Wilmer), Kathleen Mullen, Jenn Purrington (Disability Law Colorado), Tim Scalo (Snell & Wilmer) and Byeongsook Seo (Snell & Wilmer).

The Jail Wait Litigation Team includes:

  • Iris Eytan (Eytan Nielsen LLC)

  • Allison Butler (Disability Law Colorado)

  • Sean Connelly (Connelly Law LLC)

  • Caleb Durling (Fox Rothschild LLC)

  • Mark Ivandick (Disability Law Colorado)

  • Scott Llewellyn (Morrison Foerster LLP)

  • Ellie Lockwood (Snell & Wilmer)

  • Kathleen Mullen

  • Jenn Purrington (Disability Law Colorado)

  • Tim Scalo (Snell & Wilmer)

  • Byeongsook Seo (Snell & Wilmer)

Robin Gates