The landmark lawsuit grew from a sensitive subject that few people voluntarily broach: how society cares for its seriously mentally ill.
Superior Court Judge Bernard Dougherty forced the issue with a ruling in 1985. Maricopa County's seriously mentally ill, the judge said, have an absolute right to treatment.
But until the Arizona Supreme Court sided with Dougherty in 1989, Arizona's legislators weren't compelled legally to actually provide enough funding to make a difference--and they didn't.
After the high court ruled, however, both sides of the lawsuit combined to compose a document called the "Blueprint." It dictates the sweeping reforms that Maricopa County and the State of Arizona must implement to end the lawsuit.
But trusting the government to decide when it reaches compliance is like having the fox watch the hen house.
With that in mind, Judge Dougherty in May 1991 established the Office of the Court Monitor. Its purpose: to make sure the government keeps its promise to care for the mentally ill.
The judge appointed Linda Glenn, nationally known in the mental-health-care industry, as the monitor. Armed with a $500,000-plus annual budget and unfettered power, she and her small staff moved into a house turned office east of downtown Phoenix.
"The mentally ill were in big trouble here before Arnold v. Sarn," says Glenn. "It was pathetic, sad, tragic. It's still far from perfect, but it's better than it was. I was put in to provide the glue to a system that needed it--a kind of watchdog."
Unfortunately, a New Times investigation shows, no one has monitored the monitor.
Public officials have granted Glenn and her staff carte blanche to operate with inadequate safeguards and accountability. The result is a financial mess that includes slipshod accounting practices and other irregularities, including:
Employees of the local court monitor's office are full-time and on salary, yet have been paid thousands of dollars annually by taxpayers in Florida to perform work for Glenn, who serves as monitor of a similar case in Florida. Glenn insists her employees do out-of-state work on their own time, not on Maricopa County's.
Glenn has double-billed taxpayers in Arizona and Florida for work apparently done at the same time on the same day. She steadfastly denies improprieties.
As court monitor, Glenn has been paid $125,000 a year as a fee-for-services "consultant" for Arnold v. Sarn, an amount she admits appears excessive. "I worried that I was having to spend so much time on the case that it was gonna look funny someday. But I do not overbill," Glenn says.
Florida officials have accused Glenn and a co-monitor of overcharging and padding bills. But in Arizona, no one in authority has disputed the glaring fiscal anomalies.
"I know some of this doesn't look good," Glenn says, "but I'm not even that interested in money. People get our financials every month and no one has complained: the Department of Health Services, attorney general, county attorney, Center for Law in the Public Interest, the judge, and God knows who else. I just don't want criticism of me or my office to hurt the seriously mentally ill, because we've come far in the last few years."
Judge Dougherty was dismayed last week when New Times showed him some of the documentation on which this story is based.
"This is so disturbing to me," the judge says, adding that he hadn't seen the data before. "I'm going to have to order an independent audit of the monitor's office, so I can figure out what's going on. There's no reason at this point to doubt Linda's integrity. I've been fooled before, but I strongly feel that there's no venal motivation here. The issue seems to be sloppiness and shoddy accounting. Obviously, something has to be done."
Linda Glenn faced formidable roadblocks when she came on board as court monitor in May 1991.
The litigation in the Arnold v. Sarn lawsuit was over. But everyone knew the next phase--implementation of the Blueprint--would be difficult.
Indeed, the target date of September 1995 turned out to be unrealistic. Insiders now estimate that the suit will continue for another few years, even if the plaintiffs reduce some of their demands.
Maricopa County's approach to dealing with its seriously mentally ill remains deficient (New Times, June 1). But because of the Arnold v. Sarn decision, the seriously mentally ill at least have a better chance at improving their lives than they used to.
The task of creating a mental-health-care system is so convoluted that only a few people in the nation are considered experts. These experts--they must be part lawyer, part manager, part politician--are in high demand. These elite troubleshooters have their own management systems and nomenclature, which allow them to communicate. The specialization also serves to insulate them from outside scrutiny.