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Van Hollen Releases Formal Opinion on Corporation Counsel's Discretionary Authority in Initiating Involuntary Commitment Proceedings


MADISON -- In response to an inquiry from Langlade County Corporation Counsel RobinJ.Stowe, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen today issued a formal opinion concluding that a county corporation counsel is not required to file a petition for examination commencing an involuntary civil commitment proceeding in circuit court if the corporation counsel determines that it is not in the interests of the public to file the petition.


As a prerequisite to the commencement of a circuit court action for involuntary commitment of a person who is allegedly suffering from mental illness and also is allegedly dangerous to himself or others, section 51.20(1)(b) and (c) of the Wisconsin Statutes requires three signed statements under oath that “contain a clear and concise statement of the facts” stating why a person is an appropriate subject for involuntary civil commitment. At least one statement must be signed by a person that has personal knowledge of the conduct of the individual. Stowe asked whether a corporation counsel must always file a petition for examination after three signed statements that meet the minimum requirements of section 51.20(1)(b) and (c) are received.


Van Hollen indicated that there is no statutory language stating that the corporation counsel must file a petition for examination whenever three signed statements are received. Van Hollen noted that, for a variety of reasons, the corporation counsel may conclude that it would not be a productive use of the time of the court, the corporation counsel, county staff, and potential witnesses to commence and conduct an involuntary civil commitment proceeding. Van Hollen stated that the corporation counsel may, for example, conclude that (1) one or more of the affiants is not truthful or reliable or lacks sufficient understanding of the facts or the law; (2) the amount of factual information presented is not sufficient to warrant the commencement of an involuntary commitment proceeding; or (3) it is essential to present expert testimony, but such testimony cannot be obtained.


The formal opinion and request are available at:


2010 file: