Dear Friends and Colleagues:
I am pleased to introduce you to the first issue of the NAMI Legal Letter, the newsletter prepared by NAMI's Legal Department designed to keep readers informed about legal developments impacting persons with severe mental illnesses and their families.
The Legal Letter will report recent U.S. Supreme Court and lower court decisions and analyze their potential effect on persons with mental disabilities. Additionally, there will be a feature article which highlights a current trend in the law or analyzes a particular legal issue. The feature article in this issue will examine the case of Russell Weston Jr.- the man with schizophrenia who killed two U.S. Capitol policemen last July. It specifically analyzes the question of whether Mr. Weston should be forced to take medication to alleviate the symptoms of his illness so that he can be brought to trial.
I would also like to take this opportunity to tell you about a project very dear to our membership- the launching of the NAMI Legal Referral Project. The NAMI office receives numerous requests for legal assistance on a daily basis. Most often, the assistance needed is local legal representation. The goal of the NAMI Legal Referral Project is to direct callers to an experienced attorney in their jurisdiction who can meet their needs. I am very pleased to report that over 150 attorneys have joined our Referral Project and several large law firms have offered to assist NAMI with amicus curiae briefs and other types of legal advocacy. Many of these attorneys are willing to accept referrals on a pro-bono or reduced fee basis. Since people with mental illnesses are frequently unable to afford basic legal services, such generosity is greatly appreciated. We are currently developing an email "listserve" for members of our Referral Project to facilitate the exchange of information and ideas. They will also receive an electronic version of the Legal Letter. New members are both needed and welcome.
In the coming year, we plan to produce three more issues of the Legal Letter. In the meantime, I invite you to visit the legal section of the NAMI public web site at http://www.nami.org. It is my sincere hope that the Legal Letter will foster greater communication among advocates while keeping you informed about the latest legal developments affecting those persons with mental illnesses.
Director of Legal Affairs
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