By Grace Yurish
New Hampshire attorneys can make a profound impact by representing individuals undergoing Involuntary Emergency Admissions (IEA) to mental health facilities. These cases involve individuals deemed a danger to themselves or others, warranting immediate mental health treatment.
In New Hampshire, where approximately 2,200 of these cases arise each year, attorneys are desperately needed to step forward and ensure that the rights and well-being of these vulnerable individuals are protected.
IEA cases are designed to address the urgent needs of individuals due to mental health issues and offer a short-term solution to emergency situations. These cases move quickly, beginning when a patient is admitted to the hospital’s emergency department for a crisis. The hospital staff then conducts an evaluation to determine if the individual suffers from mental illness and poses a danger to themselves or others. In IEA cases, the patients can be admitted to a mental health treatment facility, also known as a designated receiving facility (DRF), for up to 14 days. When hospital staff signs an IEA certificate, the Circuit Court must conduct a hearing within three business days (excluding Sundays and holidays).
Attorneys are appointed to represent the individual undergoing admission during the court process. Hearings typically last about 20 minutes, during which the patient, petitioner, and their attorneys present their cases, with the judge ultimately deciding whether the patient poses a risk to themselves or others and should be sent to a DRF for treatment. Lawyers play a vital role in these cases, advocating for their clients and ensuring that their rights are protected.
“We’re talking about taking away someone’s liberty,” says New Hampshire Circuit Court Chief Administrative Judge David King. “Even though it’s a relatively short time in a mental health setting, it’s still taking away someone’s right to be free. It is absolutely critical [that they have representation]. This is a time when people are at their most vulnerable state, as they’re suffering a mental health crisis. So, having a lawyer is hugely important in these cases in making sure that they aren’t going to be involuntarily detained without a fair hearing and having their rights protected.”
The number of IEA cases is on the rise. With currently only four attorneys handling them, the Committee on Cooperation with the Courts is encouraging others to assist. Attorney Earl Carrel has been doing IEA work since 1988 and believes this is a great opportunity, especially for new lawyers.
“I think it is a tremendous training opportunity for new attorneys for a couple of reasons,” Carrel says. “One, you get a lot of one-on-one face time with judges, which I think is important. Secondly, you’re dealing with clients where sometimes you never really know what they’re going to say, so it gives you a lot of experience in having to think on your feet quickly.”
Judge King agrees, saying it’s an excellent chance for newer attorneys to gain courtroom experience, prepare direct testimony, call witnesses, and make legal arguments.
The Circuit Court will provide training for any lawyer who has an interest. They also earn $100 per case. Representing these clients involves reviewing the petition, interviewing the client (either in person or on the phone), and then participating in the hearing. Lawyers can appear at the hearings telephonically, by going to the client to participate with them, or by going to the courthouse in Concord.
“It’s pretty gratifying to feel like you’re helping these vulnerable people protect their legal rights in a time when they can’t do things for themselves,” Judge King says. “Certainly, the patients appreciate the fact that they have a lawyer, and the court appreciates that lawyers are willing to take these cases because they are so important. Fourteen days is a big chunk out of someone’s life when you’re taking away their liberty.”
Carrel says he finds representing these individuals very rewarding, knowing that he positively impacts the clients he sees.
Although they are a small percentage of the judicial branch’s caseload, Judge King emphasizes that these are among the most important cases that they handle and that it is crucial the patients have competent counsel to represent them. New Hampshire attorneys have an opportunity to make a significant impact and play a vital role in safeguarding the rights of those facing involuntary emergency admissions. Your involvement can make a world of difference for someone in a crisis.
If you would like to help with this work, please reach out to Circuit Court Administrator Kate Geraci at firstname.lastname@example.org.