Tuesday, November 7, 2000

The hospitalization referee is not to be taken lightly. This is the person who decides when and where residents with problems from mental health to substance abuse are sent to evaluation and treatment.

There is no rulebook to make every decision this job requires. It takes a willingness to delve into the situation and needs of an individual and his or her family, an eye to the potential of a person to benefit from treatment and a balance with the public's right to safety, a deft touch on what situation may or may not work. Perry, we think, has gone above and beyond the call of duty in this thankless role, and he has that touch. He knows the people in


The duties taken away from Perry were dumped on the district Associate Judge, Donovan Schaefer, with little or no compensation, we understand. We don't question Judge Schaefer's ability to do the job, but with 150,000 cases to handle in this judicial district each year, how will there be time to fully examine the individual's needs, follow up, and determine whether they have insurance resources that could be used to cut down on the public expense?

According to the administrator of the judicial district, Leesa McNeil, it amounts to "redirecting a workhorse that isn't very well trained (for the hospitalization task)."

While cases such as hospitalization referee services and domestic abuse will be considered priorities, other cases that are not priorities may be continued or not heard at all, she admits - small claims, probate, civil cases, divorces without small children involved and so on.

That is simply wrong. The system is supposed to be about access to justice for all, not just for the cases someone decides are a priority - or for what we can afford to hear.

McNeil said the court system will visit with legislators after the election about approving a supplement appropriation "so that these very valuable services can be restored before the end of the fiscal year," she said.

We hope so. Treatments in many of these cases may be the last chance to take a troubled individual and give them a shot at a future as a contributing citizen. There is also a great deal of public money at stake in making the right, most informed local decision. It's not the place to pinch the pennies.