Michigan court: effective assistance of counsel needed for civil commitments

07/29/2022, Litigation, Civil Commitment - Subject of Petition

In In re Londowski, No. 355635 (Mich. Ct. App. Feb. 17, 2022), in a case of first impression, the Michigan Court of Appeals held that due process requires that the subject of a civil commitment petition has a right to the effective assistance of counsel.  In Michigan, a person subject to a petition for mental health treatment has a statutory right to counsel. On appeal of a hearing on such a petition, the respondent claimed that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel.  Applying the factors in Mathews v. Eldridge, the Court of Appeals found:

 

  • The nature of the private interests at stake (i.e. physical liberty due to the possibility of involuntary hospitalization and a liberty interest "to be free from unjustified, compelled participation in mandatory mental health treatment") were significant and due process required effective assistance of counsel;
 
  • The risk of erroneous deprivation of the private interests at stake, without the effective assistance of counsel, along with the probable value of effective legal representation, was high, and
 
  • Though the state had a legitimate interest to provide care to citizens who couldn't care for themselves due to a mental health disorder, as well as an interest in protecting the community, effective assistance of counsel supported these governmental interests as it would assist in reaching an accurate determination about whether a person needed treatment. As there is a right to counsel, any administrative burden of ensuring that counsel was effective was "virtually non-existent and certainly justified to the extent it exists."
 

The case was remanded to further develop the record related to the petitioner's claims of ineffectiveness.