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In re Conservatorship of the Person and Estate of George H.

December 16, 2008


APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. Laura Hymowitz, Judge. Affirmed. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. ZE031816).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Armstrong, J.


George H. appeals from an order appointing a conservator of his person and estate under the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act. We affirm.


The Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, Welfare and Institutions Code*fn1 sections 5000 et seq., governs involuntary treatment of the mentally ill in California. Under the Act, "A conservator of the person, of the estate, or of the person and the estate may be appointed for any person who is gravely disabled as a result of mental disorder . . . ." (§ 5350.) "Gravely disabled" is defined. It means, "A condition in which a person, as a result of a mental disorder, is unable to provide for his or her basic personal needs for food, clothing, or shelter. . . ," (§ 5008, subd. (h)) with the additional proviso that "a person is not 'gravely disabled' if that person can survive safely without involuntary detention with the help of responsible family, friends, or others who are both willing and able to help provide for the person's basic personal needs for food, clothing, or shelter." (§ 5350, subd. (e)(1).)

This conservatorship was established after La Casa Mental Health Rehabilitation Center recommended conservatorship to the County's Public Guardian, pursuant to the procedures set out in the Act. (§ 5352.) After conducting an investigation of "all relevant aspects of the person's medical, psychological, financial, family, vocational and social conditions" and "all available alternatives to conservatorship," the Public Guardian concurred with the recommendation, and on September 9, 2007, petitioned the Superior Court for appointment of conservator of appellant's person and estate. (§§ 5352, 5354.) Appellant received the appropriate notices, and counsel was appointed for him. (§ 5365.) A hearing was set for September 26, 2007.

At the hearing, the Public Guardian submitted its report on its investigation. The report stated, inter alia, that appellant had a diagnosis of schizophrenia and a history of psychiatric hospitalizations and mental illness exacerbated by non-compliance with medication. In August, he had been placed on a section 5150 hold, initiated by his mother and staff and L.A. County - USC Medical Center. He displayed hostile, psychotic behavior, and paranoid, persecutory, delusional and disorganized thought processes. Since that time, he had remained gravely disabled. The Public Guardian recommended that certain disabilities be imposed on appellant: the privilege of a driver's license, the right to refuse treatment for his disability, and the right to contract.

The Act provides that "the person for whom conservatorship is sought shall have the right to demand a court or jury trial on the issue whether he or she is gravely disabled" (§ 5350, subd. (d)), and at the hearing, appellant requested a jury trial.

Trial did not take place until October 10. Pending trial, the court appointed the Public Guardian conservator of the appellant's person and estate, and made the orders concerning disabilities which the Public Guardian had recommended.

At trial, the Public Guardian called a forensic psychologist, Dr. Gary Freedman-Harvey, and appellant's mother. Appellant testified in his own behalf.

Dr. Freedman-Harvey testified consistent with the Public Guardian's report: appellant suffered from schizophrenia and was subject to delusional beliefs and auditory hallucinations. In his opinion, there were no alternatives to conservatorship. Appellant's mother testified that appellant had once lived with her, but had not done so for the past two and a half years. He was sick, and was in and out of the hospital. He had a long history of refusing medication. She did not believe he was ready to live with her again.

Appellant testified that he did not want a conservatorship, but wanted to live in a board and care, or with his mother. He also testified that he thought his medication helped him by calming him down.

The jury was instructed that "the term 'gravely disabled' means a condition in which a person, as a result of mental disorder, is unable to provide at the present time for his basic personal needs for either food, clothing or shelter in the general context of his life. The ability to provide for these basic needs requires more than the physical or mechanical ability to do certain acts. It means that the person is able to function and sustain himself in the community with or without the assistance of other available resources. However, he need not necessarily be financially capable of self-support. He need only be aware of the social services and resources available to him, and be capable of applying any income he receives, regardless of its source, to provide for his basic personal needs. [¶] If you find that as a result of a mental disorder [appellant] does not at this time have ability to function in this manner, you must find he is gravely disabled."

The jury was also instructed that if it found that appellant was "capable of surviving in freedom by himself or with the help of willing and responsible family members or friends or with the assistance of available community ...

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