AUGUSTA (AP) – A Maryland woman has been picked to oversee the Augusta Mental Health Institute, even as the state sought to delay having the psychiatric hospital placed in receivership.

Court master Daniel Wathen said Friday he has chosen Elizabeth Jones, 56, to become the court official ordered last month by Superior Court Chief Justice Nancy Mills to take over AMHI’s management.

Although her appointment requires Mills’ approval, Jones plans to be on the job for the first time next week, meeting with Wathen, to whom she would report.

Jones has worked for the federal court receiver that took over the Washington, D.C., mental health system in 1997. She served as both the director of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital from 1998 to 2001 and as chief operating officer for the receiver’s operations from 2000 to 2001.

From 1990 to 1998, she also headed the Maryland Disability Law Center, an organization similar to the Maine Disability Rights Center, which represents patients whose care is mandated by the AMHI consent decree of 1990.

As court master, Wathen is charged with ensuring that the court’s oversight of AMHI and the mental health system in Maine results in improvements required by the consent decree.

Wathen’s announcement that he has chosen Jones came on the same day that the attorney general’s office petitioned the court to delay the appointment of a receiver for AMHI.

In a brief filed in Kennebec County Superior Court, lawyers for the state asked Mills to postpone her order to impose the receiver. Should she reject that request, the next step would be to ask the Supreme Judicial Court to postpone the receiver’s appointment.

“Receivership is an extraordinary remedy never before imposed in Maine by a state court on an executive branch agency or institution of state government,” the state said in its brief.

“Such a remedy which removes control of a state-run institution from the executive and places it in the control of the (state) judiciary, raises significant constitutional issues with regard to separation of powers.”

But Peter Darvin, a Portland attorney who represents former AMHI patients in the case, said there is extensive legal support for the judge’s actions.

Darvin said this is the third time the state has been found to be in contempt for failing to comply with the AMHI consent decree, which requires improvements to state mental-health services, including a greater reliance on community-based social services for the mentally ill.

AP-ES-10-11-03 0912EDT

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