A renowned private investigator in a local community will stand trial on May 15, 2008. He has been charged with theft and fraud in Louisiana. In April 2007, a grand jury indicted William Howard Malpass after accusations that he defrauded his client, Shreveporter J.D. Youngblood, of more than $50,000.
It was reported that Youngblood is in fact a paranoid schizophrenic who believes, in part, that the government eavesdrops on his conversations. Youngblood apparently paid investigator Howard Malpass to install a pool liner in his attic, a radon gas detector and laser devices to block radio signals from coming into his residence. The Caddo District Court Judge, John Mosley ruled that Howard Malpass has completed similar requests in the past and the evidence from previous cases will be admissible in his trial.
It is clear that ethical and practical issues can arise when a client’s mental competency is called into question. However, the client’s mental capacity may vary significantly during the course of your representation. In addition, it is often difficult to evaluate a client’s legal standard of competency because the symptoms of mental illness that impair a client’s judgment or social interaction may be difficult to distinguish from the same difficulties exhibited by those clients with limited educational or social skills. This concern can arise when the client is making decisions that are clearly not in his or her own best interest.
As investigators, we are ethically, if not legally, required to look after our client’s best interests. The client generally determines the nature and scope of his/her interests in a case and the investigator implements special skills and training to achieve the goals and tasks at hand assigned by the client. This basic principle, however, can present problems when the client may be profoundly ill and lacks the mental capacity or ability to provide the necessary guidance to the investigator.
Unfortunately, the Model Rules of Professional Conduct (“Model Rules”) for attorneys provide little guidance for even lawyers representing a mentally ill client, but I think these rules should still be a general guide when servicing these types of clients:
(a) When a client’s capacity to make adequately considered decisions in connection with a representation is diminished, whether because of minority, mental impairment or for some other reason, the lawyer shall, as far as reasonably possible, maintain a normal client-lawyer relationship with the client.
(b) When the lawyer reasonably believes that the client has diminished capacity, is at risk of substantial physical, financial or other harm unless action is taken and cannot adequately act in the client’s own interest, the lawyer may take reasonably necessary protective action, including consulting with individuals or entities that have the ability to take action to protect the client and, in appropriate cases, seeking the appointment of a guardian ad litem, conservator or guardian.
It is very important to recognize that mental disorders vary in severity and the basics of daily functionality in persons suffering from a mental illness will also fluctuate day to day in many instances. Some clients with mental or emotional illnesses can be extremely challenging to work with but it can also be rewarding to assist them both personally and professionally.
Quite frequently, clients do not always show clear indications of their current or past mental health status; for that very reason, a general knowledge of the signs and symptoms of the more common diagnoses are extremely helpful. Educate yourself. Discuss with your attorney if the case is becoming a problem. Your attorney will be able to advise you on the many legal, ethical and practical issues that often arise in assisting these types of clients.
Make a prompt and accurate initial evaluation of the client’s mental status during your intake process. If the use of appropriate outside resources is available, including information obtained from family, friends and public records are available and appropriate, then utilize those sources as well. An investigator should recognize that a client’s competency status can change throughout the course of representation; the well-being of persons who are marginally competent can deteriorate quickly at any time during the course of the case. This primarily occurs when the individual refuses to comply with medication prescriptions or even from the case you are conducting on their behalf. The issue of a client’s competency should be raised at any time the investigator believes it to be problematic.
Information regarding additional non-legal resources, including psychiatric emergency service contacts, mental health providers, and family or individual support groups is available through your local county government.
Most importantly, don’t over-bill your clients. If the bill is exceeding a reasonable amount for the case, try discussing the issues with the client prior to “racking” up such charges.