County adjusts payments for lunacy hearings

Published 12:10 am Tuesday, November 4, 2014

NATCHEZ — The Adams County Board of Supervisors voted Monday to adjust the schedule of payments for attorneys and judges involved in lunacy hearings.

The adjustment came at the request of attorney Jack Lazarus, who appeared before the board on behalf of the chancery court clerk and judges.

The chancery court hears lunacy cases, and has for several years had difficulty obtaining doctors, certified psychiatrists and nurse practitioners to work in its commitment hearings and is now having trouble getting enough participating attorneys, Lazarus said.

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“Last Thursday, we had to cancel a hearing for a critically mentally ill patient because we couldn’t get a lawyer,” he said. “That has not been our problem in the past.”

Lazarus requested an increase of $25 an hour in pay for all of those involved in the hearings. The adjustment would bring payments to doctors and judges to $200 an hour and attorneys to $175 an hour.

The court hears four to six lunacy cases a month, Lazarus said, and hearings last between one and two hours.

“We have desperately mentally ill people who we can’t get treated at Whitfield because we can’t get our professionals together,” he said.

“The problem is not we are paying a doctor $175 to $200 an hour. They have to come from their office, and they have to leave their patients. The same thing (goes) for lawyers. They have to give up whatever work they would have done where they are making more than that.”

The court currently has five attorneys who help with lunacy hearings.

When Supervisor Mike Lazarus suggested the board start obligating the county’s criminal public defenders to hear a certain number of lunacy cases, Supervisors’ President Darryl Grennell said that kind of decision would have to be left to judges.

But attorney Lazarus said the chancery system would like to see a similar system to the public defenders set up for lunacy cases.

“Maybe we can put in a budget item requiring them to be there in exchange for some type of remuneration,” he said.

After agreeing to the adjustment, the supervisors said they would revisit the matter at the end of the fiscal year and see if it had made a difference.