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In re Katz

March 15, 1994


Appeal from the Superior Court of District of Columbia; (Hon. Samuel B. Block, Trial Judge)

Before Rogers, Chief Judge, Farrell, Associate Judge, and Kern, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Farrell

FARRELL, Associate Judge: The District of Columbia, on behalf of Saint Elizabeths Hospital, appeals from a pretrial order of the trial Judge barring the admission of certain evidence at appellee's impending civil commitment trial. Specifically, Judge Block ordered that "in the trial of this case the government is precluded (i.e., directly and/or collaterally estopped) from presenting all evidence relating to likelihood of harm due to mental illness which antedates July 11, 1991," the date on which a jury had previously refused to order civil commitment of appellee. After Judge Block certified his ruling for interlocutory appeal, D.C. Code § 11-721 (d) (1989), this court granted the government leave to appeal and stayed the trial pending resolution of the appeal. We reverse the trial Judge's ruling as we perceive no basis in law for the restriction it would impose on the admission of evidence in the circumstances of this case.


On September 7, 1990, appellee (Katz) was brought to Saint Elizabeths Hospital for emergency commitment after he was found by a United States Park Police officer standing on Beach Drive swinging a stick at passing cars. While on the hospital ward, Katz became hostile and threatening, stating (according to hospital records) that he would kill all of the females on the ward, and in one case assaulting a female staff member. In a civil commitment trial begun on July 9, 1991, the government introduced evidence of Katz's behavior on Beach Drive and on the hospital ward. A jury determined that Katz indeed suffered from a mental illness, but that he was not likely to injure himself or others as a result of the illness if released. Katz was then discharged from Saint Elizabeths at his request.

At the time of that trial, the government possessed additional evidence of abnormal behavior by Katz which, for reasons the parties dispute, it did not present to the jury. In particular, in December 1988, Katz had been hospitalized at Saint Elizabeths after he allegedly assaulted a female news reporter who was entering the gates at the White House. The application for emergency hospitalization stated that Katz appeared at the White House gates demanding to talk to the President about a female conspiracy against him. A month after his release from the hospital in April 1989, Katz was arrested after allegedly assaulting Sharon Rogers, a female employee of the FBI, while he was visiting the FBI building. After treatment at Saint Elizabeths to insure his competency to stand trial, Katz pleaded guilty on May 24, 1990, to simple assault against Rogers.

The present petition for civil commitment originated on July 30, 1991, when Katz was hospitalized at Saint Elizabeths after he had returned to the FBI building reportedly to "talk about his life." *fn1 The Hospital filed a petition for judicial hospitalization on August 2, 1991. At a probable cause hearing on August 6, Katz testified that women were conspiring to place him in Saint Elizabeths for experimental purposes and to "drive crazy." *fn2 At a hearing before the Mental Health Commission on September 5, 1991, Katz further testified that women had conspired to ship him to an underground hell in order to convert his body into a woman's. Dr. Raymond Brown, one of Katz's treating psychiatrists, testified that Katz was suffering from schizophrenia, paranoid type. As a result of this mental illness, and based in part on Katz's pre-1991 assaults upon women in the community, Dr. Brown testified that Katz was likely to injure himself and others if not hospitalized.

The government has also proffered records showing that during his present admission to Saint Elizabeths Hospital, Katz's behavior on the ward has mirrored his conduct in the community -- he has been aggressive, threatening, and assaultive. The District summarizes this evidence as follows: "Although Mr. Katz has made some improvement in his mental condition with the help of medication and psychosocial therapies, he continues to insist that he is not mentally ill; has evidenced continued hostility toward female staff; and has assaulted female patients without provocation." *fn3

After the Mental Health Commission recommended Katz's indeterminate hospitalization, he exercised his statutory right to a jury trial. D.C. Code § 21-545 (1989). Trial initially began on February 11, 1992, with Katz representing himself but with legal counsel in the courtroom to assist him. Katz moved to exclude all evidence of his conduct evincing a likelihood of injury to himself or others that predated the July 11, 1991, civil commitment trial. Judge Dorsey denied this motion, and Katz then waived his right to a trial by the court or a jury. Upon review of the record, Judge Dorsey found by clear and convincing evidence that Katz was mentally ill and likely to injure himself or others unless committed to the hospital.

On September 17, 1992, however, Judge Dorsey granted Katz's motion to vacate both the acceptance of his waiver of trial and the order of commitment, and ordered a jury trial. Now represented by counsel, Katz again moved for a ruling that the government is precluded (i.e., directly and/or collaterally estopped) from presenting all evidence relating to dangerousness which antedates July 11, 1991 (the date of the jury verdict in the [first civil commitment]) trial . . . ." Judge Block, to whom the case had been reassigned, granted the motion in a one-sentence written order on June 21, 1993. From his oral Discussion of the motion, it is clear that the Judge intended to bar both the direct introduction of the pre-1991 evidence and reliance by the government's psychiatric experts on that evidence as the whole or partial basis for their opinions. The Judge thus effectively barred the Hospital from adducing at trial the following evidence (as set forth in the Hospital's brief) of "a pattern of dangerous behavior [by Katz] toward women":

[If permitted,] Secret Service Officer John Casucci will testify regarding the attack on the female reporter on December 8, 1988, and both Larry Potts and Sharon Rogers will testify regarding the attack on Ms. Rogers in front of the FBI building on May 15, 1989. Appellant also expects that its expert psychiatric witnesses, Lynn Deutsch, M.D., and Erlinda Marquez, M.D., will testify that Mr. Katz is presently mentally ill and likely to injure himself or others as a result thereof. Dr. Deutsch and Dr. Marquez will testify that Mr. Katz has exhibited a pattern of behavior in which he acts upon his delusional beliefs that women are conspiring against him and he becomes threatening and assaultive toward women who happen to be nearby. This testimony will be based, in part, upon the hospital record and fact witness testimony regarding the pre-1991 behavior in the community.

Acknowledging the obvious importance of this evidence to the government's case, the Judge certified the issue of admissibility for interlocutory appeal.


"A civil commitment proceeding focuses on the respondent's mental condition at the time of the hearing." In re Samuels, 507 A.2d 150, 152 (D.C. 1986). For this reason, "an earlier jury's determination of an individual's mental state at some past time is not proof of his or her current condition." Id. Indeed, a past determination of the condition has so little relevance that the government may not appeal an adverse judgment in a civil commitment proceeding, In re Lomax, 386 A.2d 1185, 1188-89 (D.C. 1978) (en banc); an appeal could "lead to no meaningful determination as to the fact in issue," which is "the current mental condition of the patient." Id. at 1189 (emphasis in original). Instead, the government's recourse for a verdict of no-commitment allegedly tainted by error is to initiate a new proceeding: "by the simple ...

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