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Another Ch. 51 recommitment reversed due to a circuit court’s violation of D.J.W.

Milwaukee County v. D.C.B., 2021AP581, 10/12/21, Distract 1 (1-judge opinion, ineligible for publication); case activity

Before a circuit court enters an order to recommit a person under Chapter 51, it is supposed to make specific factual findings with reference to the applicable standard of dangerousness in Wis. Stat. §51.20(1)(a)2Langlade County v. D.J.W., 2020 WI 41, 391 Wis. 2d 231, 942 N.W.2d 277. The court of appeals reversed the recommitment order in this case because the circuit court violated this rule.
D.C.B. was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 2012. He has been committed and recommitted several times.  The court-appointed Dr. Rainey to examine D.C.B. for this recommitment (initiated in July 2020) and for recommitments in 2015, 2016, and 2017. Dr. Rainey never actually examined D.C.B. because D.C.B. declined the meetings (as was his right per §51.20(9)(4)).

As a result, Dr. Rainey testified in support of recommitment based on his review of D.C.B.’s records. Opinion, ¶7.  He said that D.C.B. had poor insight into his illness and his need for medication. He noted that D.C.B. had not been inpatient recently and had no recent significant police contact. But if D.C.B. were not ordered to take medication he would cease taking it and “again become paranoid and a danger to himself or others.” Opinion, ¶8.

According to the court of appeals, the circuit court recommitted D.C.B. based on his lack of insight into his mental illness and lack of medication compliance when not on a court order. It highlighted the circuit court’s comment that Dr. Rainey had said D.C.B. violated a firearm restriction in 2018 or 2016. Opinion, ¶9. And it noted that the circuit court did not mention any standard of dangerousness.

The court of appeals is correct. The circuit court flagrantly violated D.J.W.‘s factual finding requirement. The COA reversed the recommitment without remanding the case to the circuit court for further factual findings. That is because the recommitment at issue expired on August 28, 2020. As a result, the circuit court no longer has competency to conduct proceedings regarding that recommitment. Opinion, ¶¶23-24.

The court of appeals has issued conflicting decisions regarding the proper remedy for a D.J.W. error. The issue is now pending before the Wisconsin Supreme Court in Sheboygan County v. M.W.

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