The Role of Litigation in a Strategic Approach to Mental Health System Change

Jim Gottstein, J.D.  

In this workshop, Jim Gottstein will present a strategic approach to changing the mental health system to one that is honest, humane, helpful and honors people's rights.  He will discuss what he calls the Transformation Triangle in which (1) Public Education, (2) Creating Alternatives, and (3) Strategic Litigation interact synergistically to create system change.  Using the type of evidence that should be presented in defending against involuntary commitment and forced drugging, Mr. Gottstein will discuss how enforcing people's constitutional rights to the least restrictive and least intrusive alternative can be a key part in causing system change.  PsychRights' Forced Drugging Defense Package will be utilized to demonstrate the legal principles. 

Goals and Objectives

  1. At the end of the workshop, participants should have a firm grasp of the constitutional criteria for locking people up and drugging them against their will;
  2. evidence to resist such court ordered psychiatric force;
  3. and knowledge of how strategic implementation of these principles in litigation can lead to positive change in the mental health system.

Role of Litigation in a Strategic Approach to Mental Health System Change

Myers v. Alaska Psychiatric Institute,* 138 P.3d 238 (Alaska 2006)

Wetherhorn v. Alaska Psychiatric Institute[,* ][][156 P.3d 371 (Alaska 2007)

Wayne B. v. Alaska Psychiatric Institute,* 192 P.3d 989 (Alaska 2008)

Bigley v. Alaska Psychiatric Institute,* [ 208 P.3d 168 (Alaska 2009)

Since brief psychiatric hospitalizations in 1982 and 1985, Harvard trained lawyer Jim Gottstein has advocated/litigated for people diagnosed with serious mental illness, including (1) successful litigation reconstituting Alaska's one million acre Mental Health Land Trust; (2) the Myers case declaring Alaska's compulsory medication law unconstitutional for failing to require proof the medication is in the person's best interest and there are no less intrusive alternatives available; (3) Wetherhorn holding unconstitutional Alaska's law authorizing involuntary commitment for being "gravely disabled" without requiring proof the person is unable to survive safely in freedom; (4) Wayne B., requiring strict compliance with procedural protections before someone can be locked up and drugged against their will, and (5) Bigley holding (a) if a less intrusive alternative to compulsory drugging is feasible, the state must provide it or let the person go, and (b) Mr. Bigley's constitutional right to Due Process was violated by inadequate notice of the nature of the proceeding and access to his medical chart. In the first of his numerous Bigley cases, Mr. Gottstein subpoenaed and released the suppressed Zyprexa Papers showing Eli Lilly engaged in illegal marketing, and hid that Zyprexa caused diabetes and other life threatening conditions, resulting in a series of New York Times articles. Mr. Gottstein has founded a number of NGOs and has served on other NGO boards involved with protecting people from and providing alternatives to coercive psychiatry. All of this led Robert Whitaker to state in his acclaimed book, Anatomy of an Epidemic, "If I had to identify one person in the United States who was doing the most to 'change the system,' I would pick Alaska attorney Jim Gottstein."

Link to brief presenter bio:

James B. (Jim) Gottstein, J.D.