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Extension of commitment moots appeal of original order

Waukesha County v. W.E.L., 2018AP1486, District 2, 5/15/19 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity

While W.E.L.’s challenge to his initial six-month-long commitment and medication orders was pending, both orders were extended by stipulation for 12 months. He didn’t challenge the extension, so his appeal of the initial orders is moot.

W.E.L. moved for postdisposition relief from his initial commitment and medication orders, claiming that: i) trial counsel was ineffective for requesting a waiver of his appearance at the final hearing and for stipulating to the commitment and medication orders; and ii) the circuit court erred in accepting counsel’s waiver of his right to be present. The circuit court denied the motion. Meanwhile, the County had petitioned to extend W.E.L.’s orders, and after the postdisposition motion was denied W.E.L. stipulated to the extension. He didn’t seek postdisposition relief or appeal from the extension, but he did appeal the denial of his motion challenging the initial commitment. (¶¶6-7).

The court of appeals says W.E.L.’s appeal is moot. It relies on the reasoning in Ozaukee County v. Mark T.J., No. 2014AP479, unpublished slip op. ¶¶2, 25-26 (WI App Aug. 27, 2014), which said that “[o]nce in place, the recommitment order became the basis for [the individual’s] commitment. In this context, [his] voluntary stipulation, under conditions agreed upon by the parties, rendered moot the question whether [his] initial commitment order was void due to untimeliness.” Like the person in Mark T.J., W.E.L. stipulated to recommitment and continued involuntary administration of medication and didn’t seek postdisposition or appellate review of the extension orders. That makes a challenge to the initial commitment moot. (¶¶9-10).

Nor does the court take up W.E.L.’s invitation to address his appeal despite mootness because it raises an important issue that often evades review—whether a court must obtain a personal waiver of the person’s right to be present at the final commitment hearing.

¶13     This issue is not one of first impression, nor is it likely to evade review. This court addressed and rejected the precise issue W.E.L. now raises in Price County DHHS v. Sondra F., No. 2013AP2790, unpublished slip op. (WI App May 28, 2014). While unpublished, that decision is persuasive authority. And at the very least, Sondra F. demonstrates that this issue has come before us, and can again. We see no sufficient justification to depart from our general policy of declining to address issues that “cannot have any practical effect upon an existing controversy.”  ….

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