Law school to host forum on mental health

James W. Ellis, the National Law Journal’s 2002 Lawyer of the Year, will deliver the keynote address during the School of Law’s fourth annual access to equal justice conference, titled “Mental Health and the Law,” March 19 in the Bryan Cave Moot Courtroom of Anheuser-Busch Hall.

Ellis, professor of law at the University of New Mexico, successfully argued Atkins v. Virginia, in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that executing individuals with mental retardation violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

The goal of the conference is to build connections between the University and the community by bringing together University faculty and students, legal-services providers, health-care providers, community leaders and government officials to improve the delivery of legal services and justice in the region.

Major themes to be discussed during the conference are:

• the death penalty and questions of competency;

• competency and ethical considerations;

• mental disability and international human rights law;

• mental-health assessments and interventions in the juvenile justice system;

• homelessness, homeless courts and mental-health courts;

• therapeutic jurisprudence and cross-cultural competency;

• sexually violent offenders — law, science and policy; and

• ethical challenges in interdisciplinary teaching and practice.

The conference also is part of a two-year project on “Justice, Ethics, and Interdisciplinary Teaching and Practice” being undertaken by the law school’s Clinical Education Program, the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies and the Journal of Law & Policy.

“This interdisciplinary project was designed to explore the practical, pedagogical, ethical and social-justice challenges and rewards of interdisciplinary teaching and practice,” said conference organizer Karen L. Tokarz, J.D., professor of law and executive director of clinical and alternative dispute resolution programs at the law school.

“In particular, we are examining the ‘disconnects’ between the legal profession and other professions in addressing the needs of individuals with mental disabilities.”

Co-sponsored by the George Warren Brown School of Social Work, the School of Medicine and the Department of Psychology in Arts & Sciences, the conference is designed for both academics and practitioners in law, social work, psychology, psychiatry, education, environmental studies and other mental-health fields.

The conference is free and open to the public; however, attendees must pre-register. The total conference enrollment is limited to 175 people.

For registration information, call Michael Cherba, clinical program coordinator at the School of Law, at 935-6419. A conference agenda is available online at

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