In a monumental victory, a Pierce County judge has ruled in favor of a lawsuit brought forth by 28 counties and the Washington State Association of Counties (WSAC), against the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). The judge’s directive mandates the state to promptly assess patients with behavioral health conditions and issue comprehensive community notifications prior to their release from treatment. This significant legal action underscores the state’s responsibility to assess and treat individuals grappling with behavioral health challenges.

King County Executive Dow Constantine remarked,

Today’s ruling affirms the state’s basic obligation to evaluate the behavioral health needs of people in the legal system who can not be tried because they lack the ability to aid in their own defense and to give them an opportunity for meaningful treatment. It does not, of course, solve the very real capacity problems in the behavioral health system born of long-term funding and workforce shortages. With today’s ruling, counties across Washington can move forward with greater clarity, working with the state and other jurisdictions on the funding and strategies to meet the needs of the people we all serve.”

Under the order issued this morning by Judge Michael Schwartz, DSHS is immediately obligated to fulfill its statutory duty to assess all new conversion patients — those individuals for whom criminal charges were dismissed due to their inability to be restored to competency. Additionally, DSHS is now mandated to provide adequate notice when releasing existing conversion patients, a critical measure for both patient well-being and community safety.

Following the initiation of the lawsuit in August by 22 counties against DSHS, the Pierce County Superior Court granted the motion for a preliminary injunction. An additional six counties will be joining this collective effort. The 28 plaintiff counties represent over 7 million Washington residents.

Click here to learn more about this suit.

Media Contact:

Eric Johnson, Executive Director, WSAC

Juliana Roe, Senior Policy Director, WSAC