California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday pushed back against a lawsuit claiming his mental health court program robs severely ill individuals of their civil rights by forcing them into treatment.
Newsom’s legal team filed a preliminary response to a California Supreme Court lawsuit from Disability Rights California that claims his Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment Court, or CARE Court, program is unconstitutional.
The program creates a civil system of mental health courts and requires counties to provide aid for people struggling with severe untreated psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia. Californians can be referred to CARE Court, where they receive a treatment plan from county behavioral health agencies that can include a medication order.
Newsom’s opposition says Disability Rights makes “alarming assumptions” about CARE Court that are “unsupported and misunderstand the Act.”
It quotes CARE Court bill author Sen. Tom Umberg, D-Orange County, saying the program is not a conservatorship nor a “substitute decision-maker,” doesn’t lead to arrests or criminal court and doesn’t permit forced involuntary medication.
“CARE Court participants cannot be forced to participate,” the filing says.
The Newsom administration acknowledged those who don’t comply with CARE Court plans, including medication orders, would have their participation terminated. Additionally, their lack of compliance could become a factor in determining their eligibility for the state’s existing involuntary mental health treatment system.
In addition to denying Disability Rights’ petition, the governor’s administration asks the Supreme Court to issue an order saying the group’s filing “establishes no basis for the requested prohibitory relief.”
“Such additional guidance from the Court could discourage abstract, speculative litigation over the CARE Act in its pre-implementation stage, allowing California to begin the process of providing essential support and assistance to persons currently experiencing untreated severe mental illness,” the opposition says.
Newsom has repeatedly said he intends for the program to reach homeless individuals struggling with severe mental illness, although Disability Rights and others in opposition have criticized CARE Court for not providing participants with housing.
He introduced the program in March 2022 and spent much of the previous year shepherding it through the legislative process, where it encountered little lawmaker opposition.
The governor’s administration estimates 7,000 to 12,000 people throughout California may be eligible for CARE Court, which counties are rolling out on a phased basis.
Stanislaus, Tuolumne, Orange, Glenn, Riverside and San Diego counties — as well as San Francisco city and county — will launch CARE Court by Oct. 1. Los Angeles County will initiate the program by Dec. 1, and the remaining counties will implement the program by December 2024.