Appeals court rejects judge’s civil commitment as court business record

The Marion County probate judge’s method of opening new cases to approve all of the mental health civil commitment recommendations of magistrate judges and commissioners during a given period of time was rejected Thursday by the Indiana Court of Appeals.

Rather than signing a civil commitment order, Marion Superior Judge Steven R. Eichholtz “signed an order under a separate cause number that purported to approve all decisions entered by commissioners and magistrates” during the week of a person’s mental health commitment hearing. The case is In the Matter of the Civil Commitment of: L.J. v. Health and Hospital Corp. d/b/a Eskenazi Health CMHC, 18A-MH-152, and the Indiana Court of Appeals on Thursday found this method unacceptable and unsupported by law.

In December 2017, Eskenazi Health Midtown Community Mental Health filed an application for emergency detention of L.J. based on alleged mental illness. A few days later, a Marion County probate commissioner concluded after a hearing that L.J. was gravely disabled, dangerous to others and should be committed.

“The line on which the commissioner signed indicated the order was to have been signed by the judge, … but the judge’s signature does not appear on that document,” Judge Melissa May wrote for the panel. “… There were no further (chronological case summary) entries indicating the judge reviewed the case or entered a separate final order.”

But a few days later, the judge signed a “court business record” under a separate cause number that read, “The court being advised by the magistrate, commissioner and/or referee of this court approves the findings and recommendations of the magistrate, commissioner and/or referee and adopts the findings and recommendations as the order in all cases heard 1-2-2018 through 1-5-2018[.]”

“That business record order contains no reference to L.J.’s civil commitment such that we could confirm the sitting judge intended to affirm the commissioner’s decision as the final order,” May wrote. “Nor does the CCS for L.J.’s involuntary commitment action contain an entry indicating the judge reviewed this case and then entered the affirmation of the commissioner’s work under that business record cause number. For all these reasons, we reject the entry of a business record order as a method for meeting the statutory requirement that the court ‘enter the final order’ in each trial conducted by a commissioner or magistrate. Ind. Code § 33-23-5-9(a).”

“Because we reject the trial court’s entry of a business record order with no reference to specific case numbers as a method for adopting the findings and conclusions of a magistrate or commissioner as to any specific case heard during a specified time period, the commitment order challenged by L.J. is not a final order,” May concluded. “Accordingly, we dismiss this appeal and remand for the probate court judge to review the matter and enter a final order.”

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