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Mental health court appeals could be localized under proposed bill

The state’s county courts all work with a local board of mental illness, but not every county has the proper resources to assist defendants. One bill aims to give counties more appeal options for individuals deemed at-risk.

House Bill 1085 changes the venue for appeals to mental health judgements. It was brought at the request of state Supreme Court Chief Justice Steven Jensen.

State court administrator Greg Sattizahn testified in favor of the bill at a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting Tuesday.

“Sioux Falls, Rapid City, Yankton and Aberdeen are currently the facilities where an individual would be placed if there is a concern," Sattizahn said. "As a result of that, if an individual wants to appeal – and they have an absolute right to appeal that decision to our circuit courts – the appeal is either in their county of residence or in Hughes County as the seat of government.”

Sattizahn said there are benefits to localizing this appeal process.

“The person would be there and be available if there would be a need for them to personally appear," Sattizahn said. "When we have these appeals, when you go to the county of residence you might have a mental illness commitment that occurs with that board. This could be once a year. This could be once every four years. It can be very rare outside of those locations that I have mentioned. So, as a result of that those attorneys in those areas become very familiar with those cases.”

The bill is also supported by the state Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Lobbyist and attorney Cash Anderson said it’s a matter of meaningful qualification.

“That increased availability of qualified counsel to help with people going through this, and that counsel being boots on the ground, right there, ready to respond and be personally available, I think that is incredibly valuable to that process," Anderson said. "Not only are attorneys the ones who are better suited to handle this, but everyone involved has a better handle on what’s going on in those counties because they handle it more.”

There was no opposition testimony. The proposal advanced from the Senate Judiciary Committee with a do-pass recommendation on a unanimous vote.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture