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Update on Department of Justice Attorneys’ Communication with Community Mental Health Centers

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Several months ago, Justice Department attorneys filed a motion asking if they could speak to community mental health center employees outside the presence of the State’s attorneys. The State’s attorneys object to this communication.

This dispute is part of the decade-old ongoing legal battle over Mississippi’s mental health system. Judge Carlton Reeves ruled Mississippi’s mental health system violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. Through the Mississippi Department of Mental Health, the State must develop and implement a remedial plan to address this discrimination. Community mental health centers provide the plan’s required services.

Justice Department attorneys want to talk to community mental health centers to learn how the implementation of the required services is going. The State’s attorneys argue that mental health center employees can be considered agents of the State; therefore, the Justice Department can not communicate if the State’s attorneys are not present.

Magistrate Judge Keith Ball ruled, “The Court finds that more information is needed. The State did not squarely address whether CMHC staff are State of Mississippi employees (or agents). The United States, on the other hand, did not sufficiently address the practical import of gathering information ex parte from CMHC staff for use against the State in this litigation. More specifically, the United States did not address whether CMHC employees’ acts or omissions may be imputed to the State for liability with respect to compliance with the Remedial Order or whether their statements may be admissions. The Court, therefore, needs further briefing, and potentially further evidence, from the parties.”

A phone conference for the parties and the Judge is scheduled for September 15.

In other news related to this case, Court Monitor Dr. Michael Hogan filed his second monitoring report last week. It appears thoughtful and thorough. We encourage all of you to review it.

Initial arguments in the State’s appeal to the Fifth Circuit will be on October 5 at 9 a.m. in New Orleans. Click here for information about attending in personThe arguments will also be recorded.

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