Michael James wants to get out of Maine State Prison and go back to the state’s forensic hospital, Riverview Psychiatric Center, and he’s hoping the state’s highest court will send him back there.
Fourteen months ago, James, now 32, was ordered discharged from the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services commissioner. The decision followed a hearing at which his attorney, Harold Hainke, said James was not ready to leave the hospital because he needed more treatment for the mental defect or disease that landed him there.
Hainke argued Wednesday to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which heard oral arguments in Bangor, that James suffers from intermittent explosive disorder and is violent and dangerous.
“He’s a danger to himself and others because of his mental defect,” Hainke said, urging the justices to review a video recording of one of James’s outbursts.
Chief Justice Leigh Saufley said she was concerned that James was made severely mentally ill because he was held in isolation in prison in the first place and improved over the past seven years at the state hospital.
“The state now seeks to send him back to the very institution in which he was made badly crazy in the first instance,” Saufley said. “Do we not have government at its worst in this process?”
Assistant District Attorney David Spencer, representing the state, which sought to have James removed from the hospital, told her an expert who did a detailed history of James said he had learned his bad behavior earlier in life.
Spencer also said he has seen improvement in some people placed at the Special Mental Health Unit at the Maine State Prison, where James is being held.
“It seems to me we have a problem with the way we are responding to mental health problems caused by horrific childhoods,” Saufley said.
Spencer said Riverview petitioned to get James discharged in order to protect other very vulnerable hospital clients and said treatment providers at Riverview described James as “the fox in the henhouse” because he manipulated other patients.
James, in a letter he wrote in prison and sent to the Kennebec Journal in late May, referred to the prison’s Special Mental Health Unit as “a hellhole of a place.” He said he no longer carries a mental health diagnosis, yet remains confined on that unit.
“I force myself to go to (therapy/treatment) groups just so I don’t lost my privileges like my TV and music,” he wrote.
Associate Justice Ellen Gorman noted that all the medical experts testified that James didn’t meet the criteria under the state statute to remain at Riverview. “Our hands are tied, as were the hands of the trial judge,” she said.
The judges and attorneys referred to the defendant as “Michael J. or Mr. J.” most of the time. The court issues rulings later in writing.
James has about seven years remaining on a 12-year robbery sentence from superior court in Auburn plus a couple of years for other assault convictions.
Gorman asked Hainke whether James wants to live the rest of his life in Riverview.
Hainke responded that his client “can’t face prison” and wants to see whether he can improve at the hospital.
“He has a hope of trying to get a pardon,” Hainke told the judges.
Betty Adams — 621-5631