APPEAL FROM: District Court of the First Judicial District, In and For the County of Lewis and Clark, Cause No. DDI 12-52 Honorable Jeffrey M. Sherlock, Presiding Judge
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Justice Mike McGrath
Submitted on Briefs: March 6, 2013
Chief Justice Mike McGrath delivered the Opinion of the Court.
¶1 P.A.C. appeals from the District Court's Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Order filed July 20, 2012, committing her to the Montana State Hospital for a period not exceeding 90 days.
¶2 The issue on appeal is whether the District Court obtained a proper waiver from P.A.C. or her attorney pursuant to § 53-21-119(1), MCA, before allowing her to be voluntarily absent from her commitment hearing. We reverse.
PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND
¶3 On July 14, 2012, P.A.C. appeared at the emergency room of St. Peter's Hospital in Helena, Montana, and was voluntarily admitted to the Behavioral Health Unit. P.A.C. engaged in disruptive and threatening behavior while at the Hospital. She was detained and transferred to the Montana State Hospital (MSH). On July 18, 2012, the State petitioned the District Court to commit P.A.C. to MSH for 90 days based upon the report of a professional person from the Behavioral Health Unit. On July 18 P.A.C. made her initial court appearance on the Petition from MSH via the VisionNet video conferencing system. The District Court appointed counsel to represent her, informed her of her rights pursuant to § 53-21-115, MCA, including the right to be present at the commitment hearing. P.A.C. raised her hand and asked if she could ask a question, and then asked for an explanation of a "72-hour police hold." The Judge indicated that he would not answer questions, ordered an evaluation by a professional person and set the commitment hearing for the next day.
¶4 P.A.C. was transported to the Lewis & Clark County Courthouse in Helena for the evaluation and commitment hearing set for July 19, 2012. She would not cooperate with the court-ordered evaluation, asserting that there was nothing wrong with her and that she only needed alcohol and marijuana. Even though P.A.C. was present in the Lewis & Clark County Courthouse for the examination, she did not appear at the commitment hearing held in the same building later the same day. At the start of the commitment hearing P.A.C.'s attorney informed the District Court that she had met with P.A.C. and informed her "of all her rights, including the right to be present, and she declined." Without further inquiry, the District Court proceeded with the hearing.
¶5 The Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner who testified as the professional person at the hearing described P.A.C.'s voluntary admission to the Behavioral Health Unit, and that she was grandiose, psychotic and agitated. P.A.C. refused to cooperate in the evaluation, rejected medication while asking for alcohol and marijuana, and was abusive and threatening to other patients and staff. She maintained that there was nothing wrong with her. While she had a history of bi-polar disorder, her diagnosis was psychosis not otherwise specified, based upon her refusal to cooperate. The professional person opined that P.A.C. needed commitment and medication to stabilize her behavior and to lessen the chance that she would provoke a dangerous confrontation with others.
¶6 P.A.C. contends that the District Court erred and violated her right to due process by proceeding with the commitment hearing without first "obtaining a valid waiver" of her ...