Pointing to a need for "expedited consideration," the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to take up a dispute about whether judges should be allowed to hold hearings by videoconference in cases involving the involuntary commitment of mentally ill people under the state's "Baker Act."
The decision came less than two weeks after Kathleen Smith, the public defender in Southwest Florida's 20th Judicial Circuit, filed a notice on Oct. 14 asking the Supreme Court to take up the issue. Justices also scheduled oral arguments for Feb. 7.
The dispute stems from a decision in Lee County for a judge and a magistrate to no longer travel to receiving facilities to hold evidentiary hearings about whether patients should be involuntarily committed, according to a Sept. 28 ruling by the 2nd District Court of Appeal. The decision meant hearings would instead be held by videoconference.
Attorneys for patients filed a legal challenge, arguing that the hearings should be held in person instead of remotely. A panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal, in a 2-1 decision, rejected the challenge, though the majority expressed reservations about the videoconferencing decision and asked the Supreme Court to resolve the issue.