February 22, 2010

Calif.: Legal training on competency assessment

March 24-26 conference to offer MCLE credits

I've gotten a surge in queries from psychologists interested in being supervised as they embark into the tricky area of court-ordered competency-to-stand-trial assessments. With that need in mind, I'm excited that the Forensic Mental Health Association is featuring a special "legal track" on competency at next month's conference. It won't adequately train folks in the nuts and bolts, but they can get the lay of the land and become aware of some of the pitfalls and controversies.

One of the sessions that looks is especially interesting is on "Expert Qualifications and the Adequacy of Court-Ordered Evaluations." Having seen plenty of deficient, drive-by evaluations caused by a combination of the courts' low standards and low pay, I am happy to see this area getting some much-needed attention. The co-presenters are Judge Kurt Kumli of Santa Clara County, a nationally recognized expert in juvenile law and policy, and attorney David Meyer of USC's Institute of Psychiatry and Law.

The opening session of the legal track will address practical issues of enforcing court orders for competency restoration in state hospitals, jails, and conditional release programs. Again, this is a topic ripe for attention, as many competency restoration programs are sorely deficient.

Other sessions of the competency track will focus on juvenile competency, procedural changes in assessing trial competence in California, and the assessment of malingering. In addition to the usual continuing education credits for mental health practitioners, the track will offer MCLE credits to attorneys.

In addition to this special legal track on competency to stand trial, the March 24-26 conference features other high-caliber offerings:
  • Judge Stephen Manley of Santa Clara County will present a keynote address on collaborative courts in California
  • Stephen Behnke, JD, PhD and director of the APA Ethics Office, will review evolving conceptions of clinicians' duty to protect under Tarasoff
  • Stephen Miles, a professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota, will muse on lessons prison clinicians can learn from the involvement of psychologists and physicians in abusive interrogations in war-on-terror prisons
Your faithful blogger, Karen Franklin, is also presenting at the conference, on one of my favorite topics, "Ethical Considerations in Psychiatric Diagnoses in Forensic and Correctional Settings."

Finally, I just have to mention the most bizarre session I came across: "A psychiatric-legal analysis of a case of lycanthropy in a 19th-century serial killer" (presented by doctors J. Arturo Silva and Douglas Tucker). Yee-gads! With pop culture's current fascination with all things supernatural, that's one session I just must attend!

Registration is still open for the March 24-26 conference, although the "early-bird rate" ends March 1. Joining the FMHA earns you an additional $25 discount off the cost of registration. The conference is down in Seaside, California (by Monterey), so it's a scenic venue for those of you who might want to bring family. More information and the registration form are HERE.

Illustration: 18th century engraving, courtesy Wikipedia

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