Hamilton County General Sessions Court on Thursday conducted its first video teleconference mental health docket at the courthouse.
Previously, judges had to travel to local mental health facilities for the hearings.
General Sessions Court Judge Bob Moon said, “Valley Hospital has installed all video and camera equipment at no cost to the county in order to avoid having to transport patients to the courthouse. The hospital will maintain the equipment, and, hopefully, our mental health dockets currently conducted at Moccasin Bend Hospital will be compatible for those hearings to be conducted at the courthouse.”
General Sessions Court docketed approximately 4,000 mental health cases last year in conjunction with nearly 14,000 civil cases, according to clerk personnel.
Judge David Bales said, “The teleconferencing of mental health cases should diminish travel time, insure better judicial economy and avoid having to transport patients to the courthouse. This significantly reduces potential harm to officers, physicians and staff and reduces chances of escape.”
The hearings will be conducted in a separate room currently housing security equipment and cameras at the courthouse. Hearings will be held weekly.
Judge Moon said, “These hearings consist of probable cause determinations to resolve whether or not an order should issue to detain a patient for 15 days of further evaluation and treatment. We have experienced significant physical injuries to police officers in transporting mental patients. Teleconferencing will not preclude the risks, but it should significantly reduce the risk of injuries.”
He said hospital staff have indicated that a few patients are traumatized and paranoid with video hearings, but such incidences are not plentiful.
Judge Bales said,”Obviously, if any patient is not comfortable or willing to participate in a video hearing, we will travel to the respective hospitals to conduct the hearing if necessary.”
Judge Moon stated, “The video hearings are no doubt more humanitarian for the patients. Previously, the patients were in shackles for security reasons and walked through the courthouse. The new system is less traumatic for the patients and, as a result, they are no longer essentially treated similarly to criminal defendants.
"The innovation is the product of the work, research and approval of all five General Sessions judges including Judges Clarence Shattuck, Richard Holcomb and Ron Durby.”