Judge: OHA, state hospital shouldn’t be held in contempt
No damages or attorney’s fees will be awarded to two men who had been held for lengthy periods in the Jackson County Jail after being sentenced to receive mental health treatment in the Oregon State Hospital.
Pro Tem Judge Paul Moser decided the Oregon Health Authority and Oregon State Hospital should not be held in remedial contempt for leaving Aaron David Whitley and Darryl Walker, who were both found guilty but insane, in local jails.
State health officials have said the Oregon State Hospital doesn’t have enough beds to accept these patients.
Going above the 95% capacity the system is currently at would likely result in causing harm — perhaps even physically endanger — inmates and staff, deputy superintendent of the state hospital Dr. Derek Wehr told Moser during the remedial contempt hearing Nov. 19 in Jackson County Circuit Court.
Whitley, 39, spent 10 months in the county jail waiting for a bed to begin court-ordered psychiatric treatment by the state. He was transported to the Oregon State Hospital in Salem Nov. 18 — a day before the hearing occurred and just days after two dozen new mental health beds were created in Junction City for these types of patients.
Walker, 43, was sentenced in July and had been waiting in the county jail for more than four months.
While Moser wrote that “remedial sanctions cannot be imposed for a past contempt,” he also said that the court shouldn’t be limited “from imposing remedial sanctions for a continuing contempt of court, if necessary.”
Alyssa Bartholomew of Southern Oregon Public Defenders Inc., who represents Whitley and Walker, stated in her written motion requesting the hearing that the state health entities should have been held liable because state law allows for sanctions covering the period in which Whitley was in custody.
The statute applies no matter whether the contemptible action has ended or is ongoing, and “within two years of the act or omission constituting the contempt,” Bartholomew asserted.
Whitley initially was the only petitioner in the case. Walker was added as a second petitioner before the hearing Nov. 19, after being postponed twice in recent weeks.
Moser also rejected Bartholomew’s request for attorney’s fees, stating that there was no “evidence or substantive argument” in favor of an award, and that doing so would be “speculative.”