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N.Y. Court Won't Decide on Removal of Homeless

February 04, 1988|United Press International

ALBANY, N.Y. — Civil libertarians suffered a setback today when the state's highest court, declining to decide whether it is legal to pull the homeless off streets, dismissed as moot a suit by a homeless woman who was forcibly hospitalized by New York City.

The Court of Appeals said that because the woman, Joyce Brown, a former New Jersey secretary, had been released from Bellevue Hospital, there was no reason to consider her appeal of the policy set by Mayor Edward I. Koch.

Brown was the first person picked up under Koch's plan to hospitalize the homeless mentally ill.

Civil libertarians had hoped for a court ruling that would strike down the policy. But the court said the only issue it had to decide was whether evidence presented in two lower court proceedings was sufficient to find Brown mentally ill and said her release negated that issue.

The case got to the Court of Appeals after a state Supreme Court justice had ruled that Brown was sane and the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court, in a split decision, ruled that she was mentally ill.

But, as the Court of Appeals noted in a brief memorandum, while it was reviewing the case, Brown was released from Bellevue.

Doctors there said they had no reason to continue holding her since a state judge had barred them from forcing her to take anti-psychotic drugs.

Last October, Brown, who called herself Billie Boggs, was plucked off the Manhattan street corner where she had been living for a year. She was taken to Bellevue and held there 84 days.

City officials said Brown was a danger to herself and others. They said she screamed racial epithets at passers-by, chased cars, exposed herself and urinated in public.

However, Brown convinced several judges and consulting psychiatrists that she was not insane.

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