JACKSON • The question of whether an outside monitor should evaluate Mississippi’s compliance with a federal court order remains a major point of contention in the state’s ongoing litigation with the federal government over its mental health system.
Attorneys with the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office and the U.S. Department of Justice argued in court filings on Monday what role, if any, a monitor should serve and which mental health services should be expanded.
Attorneys representing Mississippi asked the federal court to reject any proposal for an external monitor, arguing that since the federal government has failed to show what the potential duties, compensation or authority a monitor would have, a monitor isn’t needed.
“Simply put, if you want a Monitor at this late stage of this litigation, then tell the Court with specificity what you are proposing the Monitor should do,” attorneys representing the state wrote. “Because that has not been done, no Monitor should be appointed.”
The federal government in its response supports monitoring provisions and argued that the state’s mental health services “on paper” could differ drastically from the services that are actually reaching Mississippians with severe mental illness.
“Verification of ‘the actual availability’ and provision of services, regular reporting, and external monitoring will be critical to ensuring that the State provides appropriate community-based services to people who are in State Hospitals needlessly,” the DOJ attorneys wrote.
Both filings were an answer to a previous court order asking the two parties to submit responses to a report by Dr. Michael Hogan, the court’s special master in the case.
Hogan submitted a report on June 3 largely agreeing with a state plan for remedial services, but believed an external monitor was warranted.
“The Special Master finds that there are some strengths in Mississippi’s mental health system,” Hogan wrote. “And it also appears that progress in better serving adults with serious mental illness and meeting the mandates of the ADA has been made in recent years and since the trial.”
The court will convene a hearing on July 12 to discuss pending matters in the case. U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves is expected to rule on a remedial plan in the near future.
If Reeves rules in any way that could be viewed as detrimental to the state, the AG’s office could appeal the ruling to a higher court.
Before speaking at a political event in Tupelo last month, Attorney General Lynn Fitch told the Daily Journal that she would consider appealing a ruling against the state from the court, but hoped the court would rule in the state’s favor.
However, it is unclear if Fitch and the AG’s office believe that an order appointing an external monitor would be grounds to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.