County’s mental health court hears first case

EVERETT — After more than a year in the works, Snohomish County’s first mental health court opened its doors Thursday.

District Court Judge Tam Bui welcomed the court’s first potential participant, a woman facing a misdemeanor theft charge. Officials say there is an indication that the woman is living with a mental illness that likely contributed to her alleged criminal behavior.

“I am very encouraged by your presence here today,” Bui told the woman.

The judge went on to explain that along with a public defender, a team of people will be working with the woman to determine if mental health court is a good fit. That will include an assessment and another court hearing in two weeks.

Public defenders, police officials, judges and advocates researched forming a mental health court in Snohomish County to address a population of people who end up in legal trouble because of untreated mental health issues.

The court, similar to the county’s drug courts, offers incentives to defendants who are willing to seek treatment and undergo close monitoring by the court.

Similar courts have been established in other counties, including King and Skagit. Here, the court generally will be limited to people facing non-violent misdemeanor charges.

The pilot project is funded in part by sales tax dollars specifically collected to provide services for people living with mental illness and those with drug and alcohol addictions. Some of the people involved in running the court are volunteering their time.

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; hefley@heraldnet.com

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