The State Department of Hospitals (DSH) can be fined for failing to comply with a standing order to timely transport individuals incompetent to stand trial (IST) from jail to a hospital. In this case, a class of IST defendants sought sanctions against DSH, arguing they were not timely admitted to a state hospital. The trial court imposed monetary sanctions. DSH appealed. Held: Affirmed in part. A court may not try or sentence a defendant in a criminal proceeding while the defendant is incompetent. If the defendant is found IST, the court shall commit the defendant to DSH, which oversees state hospitals that provide treatment. Pending restoration of competency, criminal proceedings remain suspended. A standing order in Contra Costa County mandated that defendants found IST be admitted to a state hospital within 60 days of the commitment order provided DSH received defendant’s records within five days of commitment. Code of Civil Procedure section 177.5 authorizes the imposition of monetary sanctions for violation of a court order by a person, done without good cause or substantial justification. The term “person” includes a witness, a party, a party’s attorney, or both. Section 177.5 does not provide a definition or exhaustive list as to who may be considered a “person” under that provision. DSH argued it is an entity, not a person and therefore cannot be fined. However, in light of DSH’s statutory obligation in the criminal judicial process with respect to IST defendants, it resembles a party far more than an uninvolved entity. Sanctions were properly imposed as to all but one defendant (the record demonstrated DSH did not receive this defendant’s records within five days of the commitment order).
The trial court did not deny DSH due process by refusing to hold an evidentiary hearing before ordering monetary sanctions. DSH argued the trial court abused its discretion and violated its right to due process by refusing to grant DSH an evidentiary hearing to show good cause or substantial justification for its actions. Section 177.5 requires adequate notice and opportunity to be heard prior to imposition of sanctions. However, this does not mandate an evidentiary hearing. The court provided DSH adequate notice of an order to show cause regarding why sanctions should not be imposed, provided notice it might deny an evidentiary hearing, and gave DSH an opportunity to be heard. This was sufficient to allow DSH the requisite notice and opportunity to respond.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/archive/A153313.PDF