2010-03-12 / Top Stories

Adult Homes Decision Under Scrutiny

By Howard Schwach

The federal court judge who issued the March 1 ruling that the state must move thousands of mentally ill residents of adult homes into smaller supported living units within their communities has come under attack for that ruling on several fronts.

In his ruling, Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis effectively ordered the immediate dismantling of New York’s system of privately-run group homes for the mentally ill, at least 12 of which are in Rockaway.

The ruling calls for the state to find 1,500 community housing units for the mentally ill over the next three years, effectively “integrating” the mentally ill into the community.

The New York Post thinks that Garaufis might have a conflict of interest and indicated that he should have recused himself from the case.

“Garaufis’ decision makes no realworld sense, but he could have had more of a vested interest in this case than most might suspect,” the Post wrote in its March 8 editorial. “It turns out that his wife for 18 years has been an active board member of Fountain House, which describes its mission as ‘dedicated to the recovery of men and women with mental illness.’ In short, it’s an activist group for the rights of the mentally ill. And while that organization was not a party to the lawsuit, the relationship still constitutes a conflict of interest on the part of Judge Garaufis.”

According to papers obtained by the Post, Garaufis revealed the possible conflict to lawyers for both sides when the case began in 2006, but the attorneys declined to challenge the judge.

Post columnist Andrea Peyser took the question one step further in a column entitled “Judge’s Ruling Is Insanity.”

“The army of the damned is about to grow stronger. On stoops in places like Washington Heights, they sit and smoke for days on end, talking to themselves or begging for change. One day in 2005, one of these faceless, unmedicated and unsupervised men flipped out and stabbed a baby,” she wrote. “And now, the number of lost souls is set to skyrocket to levels unseen since the 1980’s when alleys were lined with bodies and roads were ruled by squeegee extortionists. For that, we owe our thanks to a federal judge. Let’s give a big round of applause to Nicholas Garaufis.”

Even the more sedate Daily News entitled its editorial “Judged Crazy.”

“A Brooklyn judge has ordered the state to move thousands of mentally ill adults into apartments and group homes without having the foggiest idea whether these troubled souls are up to living on their own,” the News editorial said. “Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis has come as close as anyone can get to condemning a potentially large number of people to camping out in doorways and on subway grates and trains – just as so many used to do.”

One Rockaway adult home resident that Peyser interviewed told her, “Most of these people don’t even know how to shower or shave, nonetheless shop or cook.”

The state has appealed Garaufis’ decision.

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