Doctors at the Utah State Hospital on Tuesday received the court order allowing them to forcibly medicate Wanda Barzee, who is accused of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart.
But hospital administrators said they would hold off treating Barzee for now as a courtesy to her defense attorneys. Scott Williams and David Finlayson on Tuesday filed a motion asking 3rd District Judge Judith Atherton to stay the forced medication order until they had a chance to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. A ruling on the motion to stay may not come for a week, Williams said.
But Division of Child and Family Services spokeswoman Elizabeth Sollis said the hospital would wait until Friday before deciding whether to start the medication process or continue holding off.
"As a courtesy, we're going to wait and see what the court says for now," she said. "We're just going to wait and see how fast it's expedited. Come Friday, we'll re-evaluate what's happening."
In December, the Utah Supreme Court ruled 3-2 that Atherton's decision to allow forced medication was correct. In light of that ruling, Atherton on Friday again signed the order allowing the hospital to give Barzee anti-psychotic medication for the purpose of restoring her to competency so she can stand trial in the 2002 kidnapping of Smart.
Barzee, 62, and her estranged husband and co-defendant Brian David Mitchell, have each been declared incompetent to stand trial. Barzee was declared incompetent three times before Atherton ruled in 2006 that she could be forcibly medicated. Barzee's attorneys quickly filed an appeal with the Utah Supreme Court arguing Atherton made her ruling despite the evidence.
Williams said he was not aware of the forced medication order being signed until he was contacted for comment by the media. He said he and Finlayson have been in the process since the Utah Supreme Court ruling of writing an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Williams would like Atherton to continue staying the forced medication order until the nation's top court decides whether to review the Barzee case. If the Supreme Court does not agree to hear their review, Williams concedes, "There are no further appeal avenues," on this issue, he said.
The deadline for Supreme Court cases to be heard is the end of March. After that, Williams said, it would likely be several months before the top court decides whether to hear it.
"Nothing about the appeals process is quick," he said.
Until then, Williams was complimentary of how doctors at the hospital have treated his client.
"The hospital is not our adversary. They have been extremely appropriate, cooperative, acting with our client's best medical interests in mind," he said. But he also realized, "If the order isn't stayed, they have to follow the law."
Even if the hospital decided to proceed with giving Barzee anti-psychotic medications, Superintendent Dallas Earnshaw said meds would not be administered immediately.
"Typically, in every case, the treatment team will sit down with the patient and review the treatment plan," he said. "We'll decide what is the best approach for the individual. We will decide what medication to use for the patient, sit down with the patient and describe with them the legal proceedings and how they turned out."
The treatment "team" normally consists of a psychiatrist, the patient's social worker, nursing staff, a recreational therapist and different types of clinicians who work with the patient. There is no set time frame of when the hospital will start administering anti-psychotic medication once doctors receive the order.
But Earnshaw said in most cases, once a patient knows the court has made a decision, they usually concede to take their medicine. "We ask the person if they're willing to take it voluntarily at that point knowing what the legal decision is," he said. "In most cases, patients take it knowing the decision has been made. The only time we would really force the person physically is if a person is acting out dangerously. It's very rare we do that."
If it gets to a point where a patient still refuses to take medication even after being talked to, there would be a point where staff members would hold the patient while doctors administer an injection of their medication. Many times, a patient doesn't want to go through the ordeal of struggling with staff members and being held down and they agree to take their meds just to avoid that scenario, Earnshaw said.
The goal, he said, is to work with the patient so they agree to voluntarily take their medication rather than forcing it. "We have to think through the process thoroughly before proceeding to that level of intervention," Earnshaw said. Once a patient starts receiving anti-psychotic medication, "(Restoring competency) is not going to happen overnight. It's going to take a few days to a few weeks to start seeing some benefit," he said.
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