Becky Norris: Gulf County, Florida Clerk of Courts

Mental Health

The term "mental health" for our purposes, basically refers to several different types of filings in the Probate, Guardianship, and Mental Health Department. These filings include Baker Acts and Substance Abuse cases, Ex parte and Involuntary Placements, Petitions to Determine Incapacity, and Petitions for Adult Protective Services. There is no filing fee for any of the mental health filings except for the Petition to Determine Incapacity.  Additionally, all types of proceedings filed under this category are confidential and are not public record.

Outlined below are Ex Parte procedures and Petitions for Involuntary Placements as these are the types of filings that are most common in our office. Petitions to Determine Incapacity are filed in conjunction with Petitions for Appointment of Guardian, and the petitioner is required to be represented by an attorney. Petitions for Adult Protective Services are filed by the Florida Department of Children and Families and are usually filed on behalf of an elderly person whom they have reason to believe is in danger of being taken advantage of in some way.

Ex Parte Procedures
Ex Parte procedures for either Baker Act or Substance Abuse cases consist of a layperson, such as a family member or friend, filing a petition with the court to have someone taken into a mental health facility for evaluation and treatment. The person for which treatment is being sought is referred to as the "respondent."

In this type of situation the petitioner fills out a "Report to Court" form with the help of a counselor at The Centers. The counselor will verify with the petitioner that the respondent is in fact a danger to him/herself or others. If this is not the situation, the counselor will not recommend that the Petition for Evaluation be granted, which can certainly affect the judge's decision.

Once the Report to Court is completed, the petitioner files it with the Clerk's Office. A clerk then enters the information from the report into the "Petition for Evaluation" or "Petition for Involuntary Assessment and/or Stabilization." When the petition is complete, the petitioner swears that the allegations contained in it are true to the best of his or her knowledge and signs his or her name.

The next step is for the clerk to complete an "Order for Emergency Admission" or an "Ex Parte Order for Involuntary Assessment and Stabilization," and submit it the judge for his or her review and signature. After the judge has signed the order, certified copies are taken to the Gulf County Sheriff's Office for service on the respondent, and for their office to deliver said respondent to the appropriate facility for treatment.

Involuntary Placement Procedures
Involuntary Placement cases are filed with the Clerk's Office by mental health facilities that already have the respondent in their care. Generally these situations arise when physicians do not feel that the respondent is stable or competent enough to leave the facility without being a danger to him or herself or others. For the facility to legally keep the respondent in their care the court has to issue an order reflecting that decision.

When a Petition for Involuntary Placement is filed it alerts the Clerk's Office that there will be a hearing. Once the Clerk's Office is aware that there will be a hearing on a particular case, a Notice of Hearing on Petition for Involuntary Placement is prepared and processed, and the Public Defender's Office is appointed to represent the respondent. In addition, the State Attorney's Office is notified along with the Human Rights Advocacy Committee.

The hearings for these cases are attended by the judge, mental health clerk, assistant public defender, a member of the Human Right Advocacy Committee, attending physician, and other care providers for the respondent. Family members and/or close friends are also permitted at these hearings.

Upon hearing the testimony of the attending physician, case manager, and other associated health care professionals, a decision is made regarding the treatment of the respondent and an appropriate order is entered.