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Justices allow remote 'Baker Act' hearings to continue

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(iStock / zimmytws)

The Florida Supreme Court on Friday refused to at least temporarily block Lee County judges from holding video conference hearings in cases about the involuntary commitment of mentally ill people.

Public defenders have challenged the practice of holding remote hearings in so-called "Baker Act" cases.

The practice began early this year in Lee County, with a judge and a magistrate holding the hearings through video conference technology rather than appearing in person at mental-health facilities.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal in September allowed the remote hearings, spurring public defenders to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Public defenders also asked for a stay to at least temporarily block the remote hearings while the appeal is pending at the Supreme Court. But justices, in a 6-1 decision, rejected the request Friday.

As is common, the Supreme Court did not explain its reasons. Justice R. Fred Lewis was the lone dissenter.

In seeking the stay, the public defenders argued that "each new mentally challenged patient that is subjected to trial via video is being denied rights secured by our constitutions and by implementing civil rights statutes and regulations."