Lawyer says DHHS kept mentally ill client in jail too long, against court order

DHHS headquarters in Augusta (WGME file photo)

PORTLAND (WGME) - A Portland attorney is taking legal action against the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

Attorney Sarah Branch said her client, 44-year-old Joseph Lluvera, had to spend weeks in jail before getting court-ordered mental health treatment.

Branch told CBS 13 it's just one example of a bigger problem.

Branch is trying to hold the acting commissioner of DHHS, Bethany Hamm, in contempt of court.

She said even though a judge ordered mental health treatment, her client had to spend nearly a month in jail before getting it.

Lluvera was found incompetent to stand trial for charges including aggravated assault.

The judge ordered he be committed, but he remained in the Cumberland County Jail.

"Despite the Court's Order, the Commissioner of Health and Human Services refuses to accept Defendant as a patient at its facilities. As a result of this refusal to follow the Court's Order, signed almost three weeks ago, Mr. Lluvera languishes in jail," according to Branch's motion.

She told CBS 13 she was desperate to get him into treatment so she took legal action against DHHS.

She said Lluvera is now in receiving treatment in Augusta, but she's still pursuing the case because she wants records showing how many other mentally ill Mainers are in jail waiting for treatment.

A spokesperson for DHHS said she can't comment because the department is currently in the middle of litigation on the issue.

It's not clear when a judge will decide whether the case against DHHS can move forward.

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