Brooklyn Appeals Court sends mentally ill patient back to facility
The Appellate Division, Second Department, has ordered that a Queens psychiatric patient remain involuntarily committed pending a new hearing on release. The appellate court ruling reverses the decision of a lower court judge to release the patient following the trial judge’s disapproval of a hearing witness.
Peter L. was transferred from a criminal correctional facility and involuntarily admitted to the state-operated Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens in 2013. Court records show that Peter L. had a history of mental illness. In 2014, Creedmoor petitioned to have Peter L. remain institutionalized.
During a 2014 hearing, a Queens Supreme Court justice inappropriately discredited the testimony of the state’s only witness, Creedmoor psychiatrist Dr. Emanuel Barclay.
Barclay testified that due to Peter L.’s schizophrenia and the alleged threatening phone calls the patient made while at Creedmoor, Peter L. should remain committed. The presiding justice had an issue with Barclay mentioning the telephone calls and instructed the psychiatrist to refrain from mentioning them.
While responding to direct examination from an assistant attorney general, Barclay again referred to Peter L.’s threatening phone calls. The lower court judge broke from court decorum and questioned the doctor’s intelligence and ability to take or follow instruction.
The appellate division explained that the Queens judge “asked [Barclay] how many ‘college degrees’ he had earned, twice suggested that [Barclay] was unable to follow instructions despite all of his ‘college degrees’ … and repeatedly criticized [Barclay] for willfully failing to follow the court’s instructions and for allegedly insolent behavior.”
Without motion or request from either Peter L. or the state’s attorneys, the presiding judge removed Barclay’s testimony from the record, calling it “almost contemptuous.” The judge then clarified, saying, “not that it was.”
“The Supreme Court erred in striking the testimony of Creedmoor’s only witness,” a panel of four Brooklyn appellate justices ruled. While the lower court judge may have disliked Barclay’s testimony, the decision to strike his testimony was above and beyond the appropriate response.
“The record does not support its finding that [Barclay’s] testimony was incredible,” the higher court ruled. In the event that that Barlcay’s statements or refusal to follow the court’s instruction was contemptuous, the proper remedy would have been a fine. “The [Queens] Supreme Court found that [Barclay’s] behavior was not contemptuous and, in any event, the court’s remedies for punishing contemptuous conduct would have been limited to imposing a fine or imprisonment, or both,” the Appellate Division, Second Department, advised.
The appeals court reversed the order to release Peter L. and remanded the case back to Queens Supreme Court for a new hearing on the matter. The court did, however, order a new judge assigned to Peter L.’s case “[i]n light of the apparent personal displeasure with Creedmoor’s witness that was evinced by the justice who conducted the initial hearing.”
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