Patients entitled to hearing before move

Howard judge backs Rosewood residents' right to be heard

November 05, 2003|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,SUN STAFF

Mentally disabled Rosewood Center residents accused of serious crimes are entitled to individual hearings before the state can move them to a more restrictive setting, a Howard County judge ruled yesterday.

The ruling by Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney will delay the transfer of 15 people whom the state planned to move Nov. 17 to Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center, a maximum-security psychiatric hospital in Jessup. Sweeney said he expects the state will be able to argue successfully at the hearings that transfers are necessary to protect the safety of others - but that does not strip residents of their right to be heard.

Rosewood is an institution for developmentally disabled people in Owings Mills. Of its 205 residents, 40 are there under court order, accused of crimes including murder, rape, child abuse, assault and robbery.

Nelson J. Sabatini, secretary of the state Health Department, vowed to move all of Rosewood's court-committed residents to a more secure facility after a patient accused in a killing escaped in May. Most of these residents have been found incapable of standing trial or not criminally responsible for their actions.

Sabatini planned to move the 15 residents accused of the most severe crimes now, then build a facility for the others. He could not be reached for comment.

Lawyer Ria P. Rochvarg, who sued Health Department officials last month on residents' behalf, said of Sweeney's ruling: "It is clearly the right decision. ... The government was so clearly wrong. ... The entire developmental disability law is couched in terms of individuality. ... There are no group decisions."

State lawyers argued in court last week that residents will receive the same services at Perkins they now receive at Rosewood -- just in a more secure setting. Residents' lawyers said their freedom would be severely restricted.

The lawsuit occurs amid an emotional debate over whether Rosewood's Owings Mills campus will remain open for its 165 residents who are not court-committed, or whether those residents will move to small group homes. The General Assembly budget committees have asked Sabatini by Nov. 15 to recommend one of Maryland's four institutions for closure, and Rosewood appears a likely target.

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