The Supreme Judicial Court today said a man on involuntary commitment to Bridgewater State Hospital has to be transferred to a less restrictive state mental hospital and that the state Department of Corrections can't simply disregard a judge's order to do so.
The ruling comes in the case of a man facing criminal charges in Worcester County who in December, 2018, was sent to the medium-security Bridgewater State Hospital - which is surrounded by a double fence topped with razor wire - for pre-trial observation. Four months later, he was ordered committed there for another six months for treatment and then at the end of that time, ordered held there for another year, because he suffered from "schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type, and that he currently experiences auditory hallucinations, paranoia, and somatic delusions," conditions that could lead to "aggressive behaviors and serious bodily injury to other people" if left untreated.
At the end of that year, in December, 2020, the medical director at Bridgewater recommended extending the man's stay for another year, but this time the man appealed and a judge ruled that while he needed in-patient care, he should be transferred to a lower-security DMH facility. The Corrections Department, though, said, nope, and kept him at Bridgewater.
However, that violates the state Constitution - not Article 26 of the Declaration of Rights, which bans cruel and unusual punishment, but Article 30, which bars one branch of government from interfering in the operations of the other two, the court ruled.
In this case, the state's highest court ruled, in a 5-2 decision, the executive branch can't simply disregard an order issued by a judge.
Because the judge ordered K.J. to be committed to a DMH facility as the statute instructed him to do, see G. L. c. 123, § 8 (b), and because the commissioner essentially overruled that order by deciding to keep K.J. at Bridgewater anyway, we agree with K.J. that the commissioner's certification allows the executive branch to "reverse, modify, or contravene a court order." Gray, 422 Mass. at 671. Thus, it violates art. 30.
The court ordered the case sent back to a lower court with a mandate to immediately have the man sent to a DMH facility.