Mental Health MASQUERADE

Litigation over care fo rArizona's mentally ill ended four years ago. Sowhy have private attorneys racked up more than $1 million in fees since then?

Local media last week trumpeted the supposed impending conclusion ofArnold v. Sarn--"14-Year Mental Health Suit Nears End," one paper announced.

But lawyers for the plaintiffs estimate that it may take another five years. (State officials say three years at the outside.)

Is Arizona's seriously mentally ill population better off now than it was when Chick Arnold filed his lawsuit in 1981?

Certainly, but with an asterisk.
ComCare, the agency responsible for administering mental health programs in Maricopa County, remains mightily flawed at best. By most accounts, the 11,000-plus seriously mental ill people on ComCare's rolls continue to receive inconsistent levels of treatment.

And, Chick Arnold says sadly, the war over the fees has only detracted from the plight of the seriously mentally ill in this state.

"Yes, the attorneys' fees thing does look awful," says Arnold, who collected $44,000 last year as the lawyer for the court monitor. "Law firms fighting other law firms over money in a class-action suit can't possibly look good.

"... Look at the big picture. Lots of clients still aren't being properly served. But there have been sea changes in Arizona, many of them positive. I guess change doesn't come cheap, you know.

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