Arnold v. Sarn Lawsuit History

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Mental Health Attorney Charles “Chick” Arnold explains how his name became associated with the class action lawsuit Arnold v. Sarn. Filed in 1981, the lawsuit seeks to force the State of Arizona to provide the community-based system of care for individuals with serious mental illnesses that is promised in state statute.

Ted Simons: good evening and welcome to "Arizona horizon." i'm ted simons. In 1980, Arizona was on the leading edge of an effort to move the mentally ill out of institutions and into community care. The legislature passed a law prescribing a statewide system of residential services for people with serious mental illnesses. A year later, the state was sued because such a system still did not exist. The case, known as Arnold v. Sarn, went all the way to the Arizona supreme court. The high court sided with a lower court that ordered Arizona to provide the community-based care that state law required. Fast forward to 2012. Arizona still hasn't completely satisfied various court orders in the case. But last week, a landmark agreement was announced that could lead to the end of the lawsuit. More on that agreement in a moment but first phoenix attorney chick Arnold tells us why he became the named plaintiff in the Arnold v. Sarn lawsuit back in 1981. There you are. Good to see you. Thanks for joining us.

Charles "Chick" Arnold: my pleasure.

Ted Simons: let's get started with how the lawsuit got started. Who were you in 1981? And who was the gentleman named john gosh?

Charles "Chick" Arnold: it's a great question, ted. I was the public fiduciary in maricopa county. As such i game the guardian of 600 people in our community who didn't have families. As you note demographics of our communities are such that people move here and often leave their families and social networks behind. John Goss was one of the people for whom our office served as guardian. John had a serious mental illness and at the time, 1979, 1980, lived in what i referred to then as the mental health ghetto in our community. An area between 7th avenue and 7th street, roosevelt to mohave that was pretty much filled with single-room-only occupancy supervisory care homes, as they were known back then.
Ted Simons: and so because they are, now, there was statute passed that said that these people needed to be taken care of in a variety of ways. Mr. Goss who sounds like he had at least a little bit going for him, knee what was going on and what was going on wasn't what the statute required.

Charles "Chick" Arnold: indeed. John was a bright guy. He was one of these folks you would see walking the streets of phoenix every day. You could almost recognize him because he was afraid to stay in his boarding home. S&w boarding home was notorious. It had burned down two or three times. He was ill. He wasn't stupid. He would walk the streets of phoenix. Each day he would stop in our office at the downtown old court house and visit with me. And he wondered, he heard about the statute that was passed that gave rights to people with serious mental illness and he wondered why there were no services available for him. I was a lawyer. I was john's guardian. My gosh. I simply connected the dots. There was a critical need to hold our communities accountable for the statutes that we had passed.

Ted Simons: and so you filed a class action lawsuit. Correct?

Charles "Chick" Arnold: i joined with the center for law in the public interest and john became one of five named plaintiffs in the case.

Ted Simons: and you filed the lawsuit. And then, i mean, what happened? It just seemed like delay -- 10 years later the supreme court got it. 10 years later.

Charles "Chick" Arnold: well, the story, it would go slowly. The original defense in the case was that the state was that the state didn't have the funds to carry out intent of the statute. Judge Bernard Dougherty, the trial court judge, determined that wasn't a defense. What he said essentially was that the state health department had one of two responsibilities. Either to go try to get money to support its statutory responsibility, or lobby to change the statute. But for so long as the statute said what it did, which was creating a mandatory duty to provide services, the state had no discretion.

Ted Simons: and the supreme court agreed.

Charles "Chick" Arnold: supreme court agreed. In 1989 the court affirmed as you suggested the lower court decision and shortly after that, in 1991, the parties got together with what was called at the time the blueprint or the implementation plan. It was a detailed agreement to carry out the intent of the court order.

Ted Simons: and yet that suit remained open.

Charles "Chick" Arnold: the suit did. It continues to remain open because the implementation plan determined how that court order was going to be met. And it defined about 285 separate provisions that needed to be complied with. Over time certain of those provisions had been met. There is a grievance system. There are rules now that didn't exist when the case was filed.

Ted Simons: and yet we hit now in the past couple of years or so, and we see budget cuts, we see other aspects of this come into play. Talk to us about the impact there.

Charles "Chick" Arnold: the fiscal crisis resulted in dramatic changes in our community mental health system. Title 19 is the Medicaid equivalent that covers people who are seriously mentally ill through federal reimbursement. For those people who were not eligible for title 19, that is to say, for whose services funds were not reimbursed by the federal government, there were dramatic cuts in services. They lost the ability to use brand name medications. Many of those folks lost case managers. Those are the kind of things that are anticipated to be reinstated when this infusion of additional funding now.

Ted Simons: we do want to talk about the agreement in a second here with some additional guests. However, i want to ask you. What became of John Goss?

Charles "Chick" Arnold: great question. John has died. He died about 10 years ago. He didn't get to enjoy the successes of the lawsuit. I know he would have enjoyed it, and participated to the extent he could.

Ted Simons: how would he have been handled? I am going to try to figure out this, get to this question in a way through him. Before the cuts, before the cuts and the economic down turn here in the last few years, how would he have been handled? How would he have been handled after the cuts? How would he have been handled today with this agreement?

Charles "Chick" Arnold: john's only income, way back then, was SSI, supplemental security income. And that would make john what now is considered title 19-eligible. Thus john wouldn't have suffered the kind of devastating losses that the non-title 19 population suffered two years ago. Similarly, the reinstatement of those funds wouldn't have the a major impacts on john.

Ted Simons: last question. We will talk about the agreement here in a second. But what are your thoughts, before we get into it?

Charles "Chick" Arnold: i think it's a fabulous thing that there is now some definition and certainty in our system. Families, consumers, have been chagrined over the last two years because of the uncertainty, because of the nature of the fiscal crisis and what it's done to services that are critical for success in our community. This agreement defines the additional services that are going to be emphasized. The state is committed to use its best efforts to meet the needs of our community's residents and i believe provides a mechanism for future success.

Ted Simons: all right. It's good to see you again. Thanks for joining us.
Charles "Chick" Arnold: my pleasure, ted. Thank you.

Charles "Chick" Arnold:Mental Health Attorney;

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