Facts: Respondent D.F.F. was involuntarily committed for psychiatric treatment following a commitment proceeding in the Superior Court for Whatcom County that was closed to the public pursuant to Superior Court Mental Proceedings Rule 1.3, which stipulates that involuntary commitment proceedings shall not be open to the public unless the person who is the subject of the proceedings or their attorney files a written request that the proceedings be opened. D.F.F. subsequently appealed her commitment, asserting that mandatory closure under Rule 1.3 violated her right under Article I §10 of the Washington State Constitution to the open administration of justice. The Washington Court of Appeals vacated the commitment order and remanded the case for retrial, holding that Rule 1.3 is inconsistent with Article I §10. The state of Washington appealed this decision to the Supreme Court of Washington.
Question(s): Does D.F.F. have standing to challenge the constitutionality of Rule 1.3?
If so, is Rule 1.3 inconsistent with Article I §10?
If so, is D.F.F. entitled to a new trial?
Conclusion: Justice Sanders’ opinion for the Court affirmed the Washington Court of Appeals, concluding that D.F.F. has standing to challenge the constitutionality of Rule 1.3 given that Article I §10 guarantees not only the right of members of the public to attend D.F.F.’s involuntary commitment proceeding but also D.F.F.’s right to have her involuntary commitment proceeding open to the observation and scrutiny of the public. Turning to the merits, the Court also held that Rule 1.3 is inconsistent with Article I §10 insofar as it automatically closes involuntary commitment proceedings without requiring trial courts to consider whether closure is appropriate in light of the particular circumstances of individual cases. Finally, the Court found that D.F.F. is entitled to a new trial regardless of whether or not she was prejudiced by the closure of her involuntary commitment proceeding as improper closure is a structural error that affects the very integrity of a proceeding.
Petitioner: State of Washington
(Counsel: Anne Elizabeth Egeler and Robert Andrew Antanaitis)
(Counsel: Nancy P. Collins)
Argument: Tuesday, September 15, 2009 10:00am
[Source: TVW, http://tvw.org]
Audio: Washington Supreme Court
Decided: Thursday, July 14th, 2011
Prevailing Party: D.F.F. (Respondent)
Court: Madsen1 Court (2010-2011)
Note: We post only slip opinion(s) as published at the time of the decision. Please consult Washington Reports printed volumes for the opinion(s) in their final form. Each opinion should appear next to the Justice who authored it.