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mental health law firm


What is The Gage Law Firm's view of mental health challenges?

Our view has changed dramatically over the course of close to two decades of practice, and is rooted both in personal experience with mental health challenges, as well as interaction with hundreds and hundreds of clients who wrestle with these challenges in their daily lives.

There are commonalities amongst all of our clients, and one that is virtually without exception is that they are ALL highly intelligent people. Almost all of them have a unique capacity for empathy, even if it is not effectively utilized when they are symptomatic. And many of them are very creatively inclined (writing, music, art, poetry, photography), particularly those who wrestle with mood challenges like Bipolar Disorder or Schizoaffective Disorder.

When these commonalities are acknowledged, it's much harder to view these individuals as having diseased or "broken" minds, as much of mainstream psychiatry might seem to suggest. To the contrary, it speaks to vast, untapped potential in each of these minds, magnifying the responsibility of each individual to understand who his or her mind operates, beyond an applied diagnostic label from the DSM V. The more our clients are able to do the work to both understand and control the mental tools they wield, the more they tap this unrealized potential and are ultimately able to pursue any dreams they might have. This is, in our view, accomplished by employing a clinical treatment team of both a psychiatrist and therapist who can find the combination of education and pharmaceutical intervention, if necessary, to achieve success.

It's a far more motivating approach and message than to suggest, without meaningful proof, that our clients are somehow lesser than the rest of us and need to "get fixed." It doesn't diminish the importance of what they need to be doing, but it also encourages engagement in treatment beyond pharmaceuticals and finding providers who will foster building a foundation that is sustainable, where a pill alone is not.


Will getting on medications fix our clients' legal problems?

No, not by itself, and for a variety of reasons. First, medications may address symptoms of a mental health challenge, but they do nothing, by themselves, to generate knowledge as to how one's mind works. They provide traction--an anchor--for engaging in this level of mental education with a therapist, and without them many would be unlikely to find success in that endeavor. But the therapy itself is most important, in our view, in finding sustainable management of these challenges.

Secondly, we are still in the nascent stages of both understanding and effectiveness when it comes to psychotropic medications. In many, if not most, cases, researchers don't even really understand fully how they work, whether it's antipsychotic medications, mood stabilizers, or the various antidepressants, such as selective seratonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or tricyclic antidepressants. In part, that's because researchers don't fully understand the conditions themselves.

The result of this is that, in many cases, these medications do more than simply address the offending symptoms and just don't feel good to those who may need to take them. This is not idle speculation; our clients have told us, over and over again, how these medications are in many ways a concession they must make just to operate in society. And if they must make this concession now, they must also recognize that at some point, they may not want to anymore. That's why we feel it is critical to build the strongest treatment structure one can build so that these issues can be properly addressed as they arise. This is the only way, we feel, our clients can be confident they won't come back into the legal system down the road: avoiding crises that come from an inadequately developed understanding of one's mind.


MH Criminal Cases

My loved one was arrested and I want the Judge to have him transferred to a hospital before we post bond. Can the judge do this?

Not by any available legal mechanism. There is nothing in the Georgia Code for criminal procedure that allows for a criminal Judge to Order an inmate simply to be transferred to the hospital for psychiatric treatment based upon the mere concern that he is unstable or in need of treatment. The only code sections that authorize such transfer deal specifically with matters of Competency to Stand Trial, an extended process you can read more about here and here, and Insanity Defenses, in which case such transfers are only applicable after a case is resolved.

Are there other ways to accomplish this goal? Not easy ones, and they all depend on the mental state of your loved one. If he or she is very unstable and incapable of grasping a plan in any way, the chances of effectuating release from the jail and a subsequent admission to a crisis hospital is slim. In some counties, with creative and understanding judges, I have seen families execute lay affidavits in Probate Court requesting involuntary hospitalization of a jailed individual, based upon the personal observations of the incarcerated individual by two people. If the Probate Court issues an Order to Apprehend in such a case, and bond is subsequently posted, then the Sheriff's department can coordinate transport to the hospital from there. Sounds complicated, right? It is, and it doesn't happen a lot.

Other possibilities really require that your loved one can connect with you or an attorney in some way and agree to a stint at the hospital. This is why we spend the early parts of a case trying to break through to a client; the law just doesn't offer us much, so we need to find a connection to the client in whatever way we can, if possible.

What if my loved one's symptoms are too severe to make a connection and convince him to receive treatment? Does he have to sit in jail?

The answer to this is complicated, because there are so many variables and so many things that can change at any given moment. Whether it be an improvement in his insight, jail medical intervention, or some combination of both, things can move in a better direction suddenly. But, I believe it's important not to count on these changes, and to work on getting certain balls rolling quickly.

One of those balls is an evaluation for competency if I think it's likely to be needed. This decision is usually made after our first visit with a client at the jail. Evaluations take time to request and perform, so it's important not to waste time in requesting them, especially if a client is particularly sick. But initiating this process means the potential for much earlier admission to a hospital for forensic treatment down the road. Such treatment is slow to come, though, and if this path can be avoided it's best to do so. That's why it's important to continue encouraging treatment intervention with your loved one while this process is pending, with the chance that a more efficient and much more desirable means to stabilization and progress can be achieved.

So, while the law doesn't offer fast paths to treatment in the criminal context, a combination of efforts can potentially mitigate the length of time your loved one must wait in the jail for much-needed help.

Are there mental health defenses that can help my loved one in his case?

Yes, but those that are codified are not likely to be used, except in very serious cases. To read more on these tools, such as the insanity defense, go here and here.

The vast majority of our cases utilize the work our clients do to understand their minds, stabilize their symptoms, and tap into the potential they all have to achieve in those areas of their lives that are important to them. These efforts not only make for an extremely powerful mitigating argument both with prosecutors and judges, but also position an individual to avoid crisis situations moving forward and to stay out of the criminal justice system, the entire mission of this Firm.

This means that a LOT of our work happens outside the courtroom with our clients, through encouragement and conversation, connection with their providers, and regular check-ins to ensure the necessary progress is being made. The family is inevitably a vital component to our success in this regard.

What are the costs/fees involved in legal representation for your criminal cases involving mental health?

DO YOUR RESEARCH, and prepare for a substantial financial investment. Whenever you are considering hiring private counsel for yourself or a loved one in a criminal case, you should view it as a major life investment, because it is.

Talk with several different attorneys, not just us, and get a feel for what they have to offer and the philosophy they employ. You won't be spending a few hundred dollars on this investment; it is likely to be several thousand, as you are essentially paying for several weeks-worth of legal assistance in what is usually a very serious legal matter. We do not want this decision and investment of your hard-earned and saved money to be a rash one, so take the time to flesh out your options well so that you are confident your investment is well-placed.

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