According to reporting in the May 8 The Oregonian newspaper, staffers in the office of the Multnomah County District Attorney Michael Schrunk plan to cease representing persons brought to mental health court or civil commitment proceedings if the District Attorney’s budget is reduced, as planned by interim county chair Jeff Cogen.
Cogen is running for the county chairmanship; the election will be decided May 18.
In a letter from Schrunk to Cogen referenced in The Oregonian, Schrunk also “says he would stop prosecuting prostitution, trespassing, minor drug offenses and other misdemeanors if forced to make budget cuts…”
This mid-May strategy has been used by Schrunk in prior budget seasons; he has been in office for over 30 years.
Mental health courts help the judicial system acknowledge persons with a diagnosis of mental illness who are charged with misdemeanors can be more effectively and inexpensively adjudicated in a “boutique court” with attorneys, judges and staff who understand the medical and sociological interests at stake.
Schrunk endorsed a mental health courts in meetings with mental health advocates in 1999 and then delayed opening the present court until 2008. The court sees a minor fraction of persons with a diagnosis of mental illness charged with a crime, and has limited resources to offer them.
READ – Trial Effort- Portland to Get Pilot Mental Health Court, Portland Mercury, May 1, 2008
Civil commitment court is an informal but legal determination of whether a person is actively dangerous to themselves or others. It is the primary access point for persons with a diagnosis of mental illness in Multnomah County to the Oregon State Hospital.
READ – Too Crazy To Be Roaming The Streets?—The Mercury’s Guide To Civil Commitment, Portland Mercury, February 9, 2008
Schrunk’s plan holds persons with a diagnosis of mental illness, their friends, family members, neighbors and caregivers hostage within a battered service system, and exploits the attention brought to the mental health services crisis by the shortcomings of his past administration, including failure to prosecute any police officer for any use-of-force crime, including the homicides of James Chasse, Aaron Campbell and Jack Collins.
READ – Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schrunk warns that crimes will go unpunished under budget cuts, The Oregonian, May 7, 2010