A Call for Volunteer Expert Witnesses

The Commission’s Legal Advocacy Service (LAS) is looking for a few good expert witnesses. If you are a mental health professional, and if you are willing to donate some time, you could help LAS represent its clients and help the courts make better informed decisions in mental health hearings.

In all mental health hearings in Illinois, both in hearings for involuntary admission and hearings for involuntary medication, the petitioner must present testimony by a psychiatrist, a clinical social worker, or a clinical psychologist. This mental health professional testifies as an expert, giving an opinion whether the respondent needs, or doesn’t need, involuntary mental health treatment. Almost always, the only expert who testifies is also the petitioner and the respondent’s treatment provider. Because the expert is the petitioner, it is a foregone conclusion that the expert will always testify in favor of involuntary treatment.

Either the respondent or the court could seek to obtain testimony by another expert, but funds to pay for this other expert are scarce to non-existent. Many respondents in mental health hearings are indigent, having governmental benefits as their only source of income. And the State of Illinois does not provide funds for expert assistance to indigents in mental health hearings.

As a result, LAS is looking for psychiatrists, clinical social workers, and clinical psychologists who are willing to volunteer a few hours to interview respondents and to testify in court. Doing so would provide a valuable service. A second expert opinion, regardless of what that opinion is, helps the court reach a better informed decision. A second expert opinion also helps the respondent. Not surprisingly, studies have shown that respondents view hearings as more fair if those hearings are conducted openly, with the respondent’s full participation, and with all the formalities and procedures used in other types of court cases; and, if the respondent views the hearing as fair, the respondent is more likely to accept the hearing’s outcome, even if that outcome is involuntary, court ordered treatment.

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer expert witness and assisting LAS at any of its regional offices throughout the state, please contact our intake number at 1-866-333-3362.