Press Release March 17, 2007

Goodwin Procter Achieves Appellate Victory in Case of Department of Mental Health v. Kelly

Washington, D.C. – A team of Goodwin Procter litigators achieved a significant appellate victory on behalf of two pro bono clients that filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief in a Maryland case involving forced administration of antipsychotic drugs to committed patients at state mental hospitals. At issue in the case, Department of Mental Health v. Kelly, was the interpretation of a Maryland law that allows state institutions to administer such drugs over the objection of patients in specified circumstances.

The State of Maryland contended that the statute allows such drugs to be administered to patients who would be dangerous to the community if released. Mr. Kelly, an individual committed after a finding that he was incompetent to stand trial for serious charges (including rape and murder), prevailed in the Maryland Circuit Court on the argument that the statute allows such drugs to be administered only to patients who are dangerous to themselves or others in the hospital. The State appealed. The State was supported on its appeal by an amicus brief filed by the Maryland Psychiatric Society, the Johns Hopkins Health System and The Johns Hopkins University, which argued, among other things, that the interpretation of the Maryland statute urged by Kelly “is so contrary to experience and sound public policy that the legislature could not have intended it.”

John Rich, along with former associate Melissa Briggs and summer associate Erin Bradrick, prepared the amicus brief with extensive help from the D.C. library staff and from paralegals Sarah Conkright and Katrina Loffelman.

This amicus brief that was prepared pro bono by the team on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland and the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law was the only one filed in support of Mr. Kelly. It responded to the policy arguments on the other side and argued that (1) many mentally ill patients are capable of making rational treatment decisions about themselves and (2) the forcible administration of psychotropic drugs to a patient who refuses them is an invasive procedure that is not always of therapeutic value, presents substantial risks to the patient and can undermine effective treatment. The brief principally cited the psychiatric and social science literature, not cases, and was the only brief to comment specifically on the inefficacy of antipsychotic drugs to treat delusional disorder (Mr. Kelly’s diagnosis).

The Maryland Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the Circuit Court, with the result that further efforts to treat Mr. Kelly with these drugs must be based on danger to self or others in the hospital. While the majority opinion did not cite our brief or its psychological studies, treating the case as purely one of statutory construction, it very likely found comfort in the policy arguments made and the extensive literature cited. And the two concurring judges (who rejected the majority’s statutory construction) relied on the lack of evidence of the efficacy of the prescribed drugs to treat Mr. Kelly’s disorder, a point made in our brief.