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Are You Crazy Enough For Laura’s Law? Ask Doug Losak.

The November 11 Board of Supervisors discussion leading to unanimous approval of a limited pilot program of Laura’s Law in Mendocino County got off to a bumbling start after Health and Human Services honcho Stacy Cryer gave a brief description of the program. Then she handed the baton to “Acting” County Counsel Doug Losak to discuss his office’s role in the proposal.

The confusion was immediate.

Losak explained: “Implementing Laura's Law— a lot of the process will go through the County Counsel's office, as far as reviewing— once they are given to us by Mental Health we will review the petition approximately one hour. At that point if we determine that it meets the state requirements it will take between two and four hours preparing the petition, gathering information necessary to file it and get everything ready for it, another hour for the attorney to review the petition, etc. and then one to two hours for initial hearing of an uncontested hearing and four hours if it's contested and then approximately an hour to an hour and a half for a follow-up court hearing, about, I believe, every quarter at that point. I'm anticipating — I spoke with Nevada County’s County Counsel's office, the County Counsel there, about this and she informed me that currently they are reviewing somewhere between 18-19 petitions a year. They have somewhere between 12-13 petitions that they actually file every year. She said the word is out there that they have about five petitions, five right now a year. She said right now that's on average. She said when it first started out it was only a couple and last year and this year, as I said, they are reviewing between 18 and 19 and filing between 12 and 13 petitions a year.”

Supervisor Dan Hamburg: “So why are your numbers so much higher than that?”

Losak: “Our numbers are not higher than what we're saying for her.”

Supervisor John McCowen: “Her number reviewed to actually filed?”

Losak: “Correct.”

McCowen: “Her number of reviewed —?”

Losak: “Her number reviewed—”

Hamburg: “But your numbers are much higher than Nevada County. So why are your numbers so much higher?”

Losak: “My numbers are much higher? No.”

Hamburg: “Well — Doug, you just —”

Losak: “Let me look.”

Hamburg: “You just said 18-19 and you've got 30 and you said 4-5 and you got 12.”

Losak (looking at a sheet of paper): “30 referrals? My understanding is initially that —”

Hamburg furrows his brow and looks irritated and confused.

Losak: “There are — there is a backlog, somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 referrals that the Mental Health Advisory Board would like the County to look at, would like Mental Health — so that's initially — I’m not — the number — we are looking at — on an annual basis somewhere between 18 and 19 once the program gets up and running. It'll take a few years to get to those figures.”

Hamburg re-examines his copy of the paperwork, shakes his head, rubs his forehead.

Losak: “And then somewhere around 12 and 14 a year — Nevada County is approximately the same population size as our county.”

Hamburg: “Right.”

Losak: “So it's a good comparison.”

Hamburg (nodding): “Right.”

Losak: “They have I believe about a 100,000 population. So I was looking to them for the same numbers. Somewhere — once we get up and running — the initial, the initial is what this is. The initial is about 30 right out of the gate. Once we get past that initial point it's going to average somewhere between 18 and 19.”

Hamburg: (Shrugs his shoulders.)

McCowen: “Hopefully this will — excuse me, Supervisor Hamburg.”

Hamburg: “No, go ahead.”

McCowen pointed out that initially there will only be four slots available; Mendo “will not be opening the floodgates and inviting anyone in the community who would like to make a referral saying we think you need a petition for this person. Why wouldn't we rely on the Public Defender, maybe County Counsel, maybe Mental Health to have something of a collaborative process where they would do screening to say, by criteria that they would develop, in our opinion these petitions clearly are what we have in mind for Laura's Law and bring forward a more modest number of petitions with people that objectively appear to clearly meet the criteria rather than sift through a big pile to wind up with four that will actually fill the slots. So I'm not sure how well this has all been thought through yet. I think the Board clearly wants to move forward with authorizing a pilot program, but there needs to be more thought given to how we proceed.”

Losak: “That would work as well. Any way we can look at it to try to narrow it down so there is not a lot of them initially— What I wanted to make the Board aware of was that once we get, once it, once the program is up and running it's going to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 18-20 petitions a year that the County Counsel's office will be reviewing and keeping track of. That’s…”

Losak didn’t finish his final sentence.

Presiding Superior Court Judge David Nelson told the Board that the judges were on board and there would be no significant increase in their budget.

District Attorney David Eyster told the board that since Laura’s Law was primarily a civil program and did not involve criminal defendants he didn't see any significant budget impact in his department.

Sheriff Allman was more expansive: “I'll have to honestly tell you it's not always pleasant to be in this room. But Laura's Law is a pleasant time to be here. This is something that I think that nobody would say that this is the wrong way to go. But there is a commitment by the Board that you have to make on the general fund because otherwise this idea we have, the work the county staff has done, the positions that we all have, in three years or four years will be for naught because there's not a commitment. So when the Health and Human Services Director stated that there is a commitment for general fund, we can't take that lightly. I support the general fund commitment, but I don't want this to die in three years by saying it was a good idea but it didn't get what we wanted. Let's do it now. Let's say that Mendocino County is ‘in.’ We are in. But also to the public this is not a panacea for mental illness and the treatment of it. If it was, we wouldn't be the third county in the state to do it. Yolo County, Nevada County, maybe San Francisco, I'm not sure. This is for severely mentally ill. For those who are out there saying, Good, we have solved our mental health problem, our dilemma — we have not. This is for the ones who are severely mentally ill. I've spoken with Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal on this many times when he comes to Mendocino County. He likes to vacation here. I asked him how Laura's Law impacted his department and the answer was, Good. He said, Tom, it's impacted our department because we don't have anything to do with Laura's Law. These people are not getting into the criminal justice system. Hooray. That's a victory. But there still will be people who are involved with criminal justice, there is still the 11 O'clock Mental Health calendar which I'm very fortunate our judges support that we are still going to deal with. So please don't think that today because Laura's Law is approved, and I certainly hope it's a 5-0 vote, that the mental health conversation ends because it won't end. And please don't in a few years say, Well I thought we had Laura's Law, we shouldn't have these issues. We will have Laura's Law, but we will still have mental illness. I don't want to be the naysayer here and I'm very appreciative of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) and the mental health board and the providers who are here to say, Yes, let's make it work. But this is going to be a six-month, year-long process finding out really and truly where are we going with Laura's Law because there are so many unknowns. Thank you for considering it, thank you for doing it, thank you for making the general fund commitment that we can all look back a year from now and say, Yes we were not the first but we can absolutely be one of the leaders statewide if not nationwide.”

Cryer: “At first we believe there will be some time spent filtering through the referrals and getting to the four cases that are really the ones that we want to be working on. So there will be an influx of referrals at the beginning. … But we are just guessing on some of this. … This pilot program will give us information about the caseload and the numbers and a projection of what the ongoing costs might look like. Right now we are truly guessing. … It's true we have not laid out a full program. If you give us direction today, that's what we will begin to do.”

CEO Carmel Angelo: “The money is still in question. It is general fund. Given that the pilot program would not start until July 1 of 2015 that gives us six months to really determine clearer figures on this. It's all preliminary at this point. I think these estimates from staff are the highest amounts. We don't want to come back later and say it cost more than we thought. We are going with a top-tier of $100,000 of general fund and 60,000 the Mental Health Services Act funding — that will be the 12 month period. But I think we have six months to really look at that. I would much rather have them come with the top line number than have us have to come back to this board for additional dollars.”

McCowen: “There are still many misconceptions about what Laura's Law really is and what it really does. Some of the criteria are for an individual to be eligible for Laura's Law they must not only be gravely mentally ill, they must also have demonstrated an inability to care for themselves by either being hospitalized or incarcerated twice in the last 48 months or that in the last 36 months they have demonstrated violent behavior towards themselves or others in the last 48 months and hospitalized or incarcerated two or more times in the last 36 months. Those are the criteria that someone is supposed to meet to be eligible for Laura's Law. While this may be an additional tool in the toolbox that can help gravely mentally ill people who are most at risk to themselves and the community, there's a whole lot of people out there that are not going to fit the criteria. And we are supposed to be able to say that the services available through Laura's Law are available to all in the community who need them, who seek them, who request them or equivalent. But, can we say today that we are able to provide anyone the services that we would provide through Laura's Law? Do we have the resources to do that? I hope staff could further review that in 90 days and provide a more comprehensive answer. Also what precisely can be done through Laura's Law that cannot be done otherwise? That's not still not completely clear because after all if the services are available to anyone now voluntarily then what is the real difference? Given that Laura’s Law is supposed to be voluntary — although there is a series of steps that as you go through then the court can as I understand it add an element of coercion to persuade people to please accept treatment. There are a number of questions out there that hopefully we will all come to a fuller understanding of in the next two or three months as staff works toward implementation. There are also budget questions. I don't really accept that it should cost county counsel anymore than what is in their current budget or the public defender's budget. It's unfortunate the public defender is not here. My understanding is that she does support the county moving forward so can I can only assume she had to be in court or something. But let's see if we can implement this within existing resources and if we can do that and if the pilot program demonstrates that this is an effective tool and that it's really working, then we can dispense with the pilot program hopefully sooner rather than later and have full implementation.”

Supervisor Dan Gjerde: “One of the pieces that has to come together is the 11 O'clock Mental Health calendar. I may sound like a broken record here but my question continues to be: When is the Coast going to get the 11 o'clock calendar up and running? I’ve heard that the District Attorney and the public defender are in position. But as far as I know it's still not operating on the coast. I remember sitting in the audience two years ago when the Mental Health calendar was proposed and it was originally proposed to be both on the coast and inland. The thought was that it would be up and running on the coast first. Yet, here we are two years later and it's still not up and running on the coast. As we just heard, Laura’s Law is not for everyone and the 11 O'clock calendar still has a role for other people. It seems that if we don't have an answer to that today about when it's going to be up and running on the coast, it would be nice as a part of any presentation that we also hear how the 11 O'clock calendar which seems to be a great success here in Ukiah, when will it also be up and running on the coast?”

After several more minutes of procedural discussion, the Board voted unanimously to approve a one-year pilot program with four slots beginning next July 1.

* * *

Two years ago, in the wake of the Aaron Bassler affair, the Board voted unanimously not to consider Laura’s Law. Bassler was way beyond the basic cooperation required by Laura's Law.

So, why now? What has changed?

As far as we can tell the only thing that has changed is a new amendment to the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA, aka Proposition 63) which allows Laura's Law costs to be partially covered by Proposition 63 funds. However, Prop 63 money can only be used to fund direct mental health services, not the public defender, district attorney, training, or administration.

In theory, and apparently in practice in Nevada County, keeping a few people from entering the criminal justice system brings objective savings which exceed whatever incidental costs those particular ancillary offices may incur processing their paperwork.


County CEO Carmel Angelo’s big raise was made official at the November 11 Board of Supervisors meeting. She'll now rake in $180,000 annually.

Supervisor John Pinches: “This is the salary that our predecessor to Carmel Angelo actually had before he resigned and we are just now, after how many years with our CEO, we are finally bringing Carmel’s salary up to that amount which was achieved by her predecessor several years ago. Because of the resignation of our assistant CEO we are running extremely under budget for this position.”

Supervisor Carre Brown: “It's a five-year period starting in November.”

District Attorney David Eyster: “This is the right move. The CEO’s office has been very supportive and very proactive in addressing problems in the District Attorney's Office which we've had to deal with making sure that the necessary resources were there and making tough decisions including putting the county back on some stable footing. So I agree with the board and I appreciate you taking care of this.”

Supervisor John McCowen: “I agree that CEO Angelo has done an outstanding job over the last five years. It is a somewhat significant increase, as the chair notes, but it really brings her up to the compensation level that her predecessor received five years ago. I'm confident that if we were to go out to recruit not only do I think we would not be able to attract someone with Carmel Angelo's quality with the proven record that she has, I'm not sure we’d be able to attract someone of lesser quality without going to at least this level of compensation for this position. So I wholeheartedly support it.”

Supervisor Brown: “Historically, and at least in the last decade, we have had a swinging door of CEOs and that's not good for the county. With Ms. Angelo’s acceptance and our approval of this contract she will be, I want to say the second, but maybe it's the third, because of Al Beltrami and Mike Scannell may have sat longer than you, but I'm very appreciative of the fact that the CEO has accepted the offer and that's why it's on the agenda today and I will look forward to working with her in the future. I think it's the right move for this county.”

Reminds me of the agreement between me and my cat: I give her food and in return she eats it.) The $30,000 a year (20%) raise was approved unanimously.

Not to be too churlish about it, and Ms. Angelo is surely an improvement over the “swinging door” CEOs of the past few years — which isn’t saying much. But CEO Angelo’s primary accomplishment has been firing people to meet a rather arbitrary budget and keeping a lid on hiring to build up the county’s reserves. This is fine in a narrow sense, but hardly worthy of the kind of raise and praise the Supes just thanked her for accepting. The County is still very poorly managed — no routine departmental reports, a woefully understaffed Sheriff’s department, an ill-informed board of Supervisors, no questions about giving an extra $200k to a tourism industry that doesn’t need it at all, and, perhaps worst of all, giving the CEO a 20% raise while offering the remaining competent line workers a rather paltry one time payment of $1200 but not restoring any part of their 10% cut in salaries is not exactly the kind of morale boosting message the Board should be sending.

* * *

CEO Angelo then told the Board in her CEO’s report on that same November 11 meeting (one week after the recent elections) that County Clerk-Recorder Susan Ranochak “has put out a press release every year saying the vote will be determined within 28 days. I think this is something that has caught the attention of many people within our community and particularly some of the electeds [sic], is the fact that there lists so many votes that are outstanding in the different districts. I received calls and I'm sure you received calls. This press release is out and as Ms. Ranochak says we will have to wait 28 days to see the final count.”

Supervisor Dan Gjerde: “Everybody wants the election count to be as accurate as possible. I think the question that keeps coming up to me and other people on the coast is they look at election night they see that Humboldt County which has 50% more people reporting on election night and I assume they still have a few provisional ballots. But if you look at the provisional ballot count in Mendocino County I think it's fewer than 500 that are outstanding. And it’s something like half of the ballots not yet been counted in Mendocino County whereas in Humboldt County I think it was 100% except for maybe the provisionals. So I guess the question for the Elections Office is, What are they doing in Humboldt that's different than what's happening here?”

Supervisor Pinches: “Good point.”

Supervisor McCowen: “It's important to have an accurate count but also a timely count. I think with the shift to the mail-in precincts we see every election that we have a situation very similar to this one except in this case we have considerably more ballots still to be counted than those that were actually counted on election night. It's probably time to revisit the issue of what would be the real cost to restore more physical polling places so that people have the option because I believe there is a lot of voters who have had their polling place taken away who still hold their ballot to the last minute and then of course they don't get counted. There would be some additional cost for additional poll workers but there would be, to me, and the board should appropriate sufficient funds if the election official and the board were to choose to go in that direction. I think there would be a real value to being able to have a more timely count. I invite Supervisor Gjerde to sponsor an agenda item to that effect with me.”

Gjerde did not respond. Newly praised and raised CEO Angelo did not respond. Nothing was done. Nothing was proposed. Nobody asked what could be done or even if Ms. Ranochak was available to discuss the problem.

* * *

In his supervisor’s report, Supervisor McCowen brought up the entirely unwanted, unattractive and unwelcome new County Courthouse being foisted off on the County and the City of Ukiah by the judges with no concern for the cost or disruption it will cause all so that Mendo’s nine (9!) judges can sit in fancy new digs, never mind that their County support staff will have to run around like unsupervised school children on recess to appear in the judicial palace to present their honors judges with their fish in the barrel cases.

McCowen: “Most people in the community know that the proposal by the Administrative Office of the Courts to acquire a parcel of land of approximately 4.1 acres at the Ukiah Depot site is moving forward. I thought it might be appropriate since a number of questions have been raised by various people in the community, it might be appropriate before that purchase is finalized to invite the Superior Court and the Administrative Office of the Courts to make an informational presentation to the Board of Supervisors. This is a state-controlled process that neither the Board of Supervisors and nor the Ukiah City Council in whose jurisdiction it is of course really have any say in the matter. Again, for the information of the public I think it would be appropriate to provided the courts and the AOC are willing to make a presentation.

A presentation was tentatively scheduled for December 16. But that depends on whether the robed royal highnesses and their administrative mandarins in San Francisco will condescend to appear before the skeptical Mendo public.

One Comment

  1. Jessica Ehlers December 6, 2014

    Thanks for posting this. I can’t wait to see Laura’s Law working in Mendocino County but that isn’t the end of the mental health conversations we need to have.

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