Mental Health County Court


Broward County’s Misdemeanor Mental Health Court was established in 1997. It was the first such court in the nation. It is a special division of the county criminal court that handles cases involving nonviolent, misdemeanor defendants identified as mentally ill or developmentally disabled. It is a voluntary pre-adjudication program, that is, it diverts people into treatment before they face trial if they agree to follow the court’s direction. The court takes this approach as a way to promote recovery and mental health wellness and avoid criminalizing mental health problems.

Video of Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren Discussing Misdemeanor Mental Health Court

Resource Guide for Families
Resource Guide for Lawyers

Access to the Court
• The referral process is consumer friendly. Anyone can access the Court, including consumers, family members, case managers, attorneys, probation officers, jail staff and other division judges can       make referrals to the court. (No medical documentation is required.)
• For court intake and referrals, please contact the Office of Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren at 954-831-7240 and speak to my Judicial Assistant, JoAnne Cappiello. Or email at When calling or sending an e-mail, please always include the name of individual and a case number, if you have one.
• We will put you on a court docket on the next available court date.
• The Court meets on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at 9:00 A.M in Courtroom 6155.

Once deemed competent and eligible for participation, and after agreeing to it, the defendant, his family, court personnel, and clinicians determine the services the defendant needs. Most are referred to local community mental health centers where a variety of treatments are available. The court maintains nine (9) residential beds at Rainbow Villas administered by Henderson Behavioral Health Center (a dual diagnosis treatment center) for defendants who are homeless or at risk for homelessness. Court monitors receive periodic reports from treatment providers, and the court holds periodic reviews during the treatment period to make adjustments as necessary. Typically, when the court determines a defendant has made sufficient progress it “withholds” his adjudication, meaning there is a record of the arrest and court disposition, but no judgment is entered.

Broward County was the model for the American Law Enforcement and Mental Health Project passed by Congress in October, 2000 and signed into law by President Clinton on November 13, 2000, to fund 100 mental health courts across the United States. Further, the Court is the model for the one of four the U.S. Department of Justice looked at in 2000 report on “Emerging Judicial Strategies for the Mentally Ill in Criminal Caseloads.” The report is available at

The Broward County, Florida mental health court was established in June 1997. It was the first court of its kind in the nation. It grew out of (1) the findings of a Broward county grand jury that was formed to investigate community mental health shortfalls, which included jail overcrowding and a series of incidents in 1994 involving mentally ill offenders, including several jail suicides, and (2) the subsequent recommendations of a multiagency task force that a county Circuit Court judge convened in response to the grand jury’s probe. The grand jury found serious shortages of services for this population, particularly a lack of affordable housing. These factors led to a “revolving door” for mentally ill petty offenders.

The court’s goals are to:
● Create effective interactions between the criminal justice and mental health systems
● Ensure legal advocacy for persons with mental illness and other mental health disabilities. The Court applies the legal philosophy of therapeutic jurisprudence and is dedicated to the decriminalization of persons with mental illness from a dignity perspective.
● Balance the defendants’ rights with public safety
● Divert mentally ill defendants with minor criminal charges to community-based services and create centralized services to increase their access to care from a person-centered and trauma-informed lens.
● Reduce mentally ill defendants’ contact with the criminal justice system
● Monitor the delivery and receipt of services and treatment
● Encourage defendants and their families to participate in court decisions

Court Team
The court is a problem-solving court and uses an inter-disciplinary team model which shares in the problem-solving process. All final determinations rest with the judge. The team includes the judge, a prosecuting attorney, the public defender, an in-court clinician, and a forensic case managers. All clinical staff have considerable background in psychiatric rehabilitation and recovery from an evidence based perspective and apply a strength based approach to clinical recommendations to the court where preference is given a priority whenever possible. The clinical team is well versed in trauma and the significance of cultural competency and precision treatment matching.

Court Process
Eligibility. The court accepts individuals with a wide range of mental disabilities, which include, but are not limited to mental illness, intellectual disabilities, such as Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome and learning disabilities. As well as neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s Disease, Dementia, and Traumatic Brain Injury.

Mental illness is defined as a wide-range of mental health conditions-disorders that affect ones mood, thinking and behavior. Examples of mental illness include Depression, Anxiety Disorders, Schizophrenia, Bi-Polar Disorder and addictive behaviors. See, Mayo Clinic definition.

Court Jurisdiction

The Mental Health Court hears all adult misdemeanor offences and violation of probation matters, with the exception of DUI’s and Domestic Violence cases and Battery charges are accepted with victim’s consent (subject to court approval).

Because it was designed to deal with people who, because of their illness, return frequently to the criminal justice system, the court accepts defendants with prior convictions. The Court targets individuals with non-violent, low level misdemeanor offenses, but will consider criminal histories which include violent crimes, which are carefully screened to avoid those who pose an extreme threat to public safety. But the court will admit some people with violent histories if they express a genuine desire to participate and do not present conditions that would prevent therapeutic success.


The court deals with defendants at the time of their arrest or as early in the court process and on a pre-trial basis. Instead of criminalizing their behavior, it attempts to link them to appropriate diagnostic and treatment services. Most clients are identified while in jail after arrest or at the probable cause, bond-setting hearing that is typically held within 24 hours after arrest. Referrals also come from judges in other courts and from police, family members, attorneys, and community case managers. Participation in the mental health court is voluntary and individuals may choose to opt out at any time, in which case the case will be transferred back to its original assigned criminal division.

Anyone who exhibits mental health symptoms during the jail’s booking process or who admits a past history of mental illness is assessed by a psychiatrist employed by the private contractor that provides health services to the jail. All criminal justice stakeholders are encouraged to make referrals to the mental health court as swiftly as possible to be screened and assessed for jail diversion by mental health court clinical team.

When an evaluation finds that a defendant poses a danger to himself or others the psychiatrist seeks an order to send him to a crisis center for treatment or evaluation for involuntary commitment. By law, the evaluation must occur within 72 hours of arrest. Patients kept at the crisis center for stabilization are returned to the mental health court when they are stabilized. Patients who are committed involuntarily are returned to the court for review of the appropriateness of the discharge plan and any other treatment planning needs. The court operates on a case-by-case basis in terms of court participation. On average, individuals participate in the court up to six months to assess adequacy of treatment planning, adherence to treatment and engagement in care after their hospitalization. The court typically utilizes a review hearing process as an alternative to traditional probation.


When a defendant is believed to be incompetent, the judge orders an evaluation. If he or she is found incompetent, the court orders a conditional release subject to treatment and supervision based upon an individual’s social and psychiatric level of care needs and the court strives to honor preferences. An incompetent defendant who has no place to live is placed in the court’s transitional housing facility, Rainbow Villas or other community program based on availability. The state maintains jurisdiction over the defendant’s case for 12 months during which time the court monitors his or her compliance with the release conditions and receives periodic reports on his progress. If he remains incompetent, the charges are subject to dismissal per Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure.

Values and Principles of the Court

The Mental Health Court is a collaborative court. It is the outgrowth of the Grand Jury Report of 1994 and the work of the Ad Hoc Criminal Justice and Mental Health Task Force formed at this time. This diverse assembly of criminal justice and mental health stakeholders worked tirelessly for several years seeking solutions to improve the streamlining of people entering the jail system with serious mental illness. Broward County Public Defender, Howard Finkelstein, was the brain child of the concept for a specialized mental health court and envisioned a court which would promote dignity and respect as well as having a specialization in psychiatric rehabilitation and disability rights. The court wholly adopts the legal philosophy of Therapeutic Jurisprudence, which is based on the Three V’s: Voluntariness, Voice and Validation of the court participants. (Amy D. Ronner, Songs of Validation, Voice, and Voluntary Participation: Therapeutic Jurisprudence, Miranda and Juveniles, 71 U.CIN. L. REV. 89, 94-95 (2002))
The Court has been honored nationally and internationally for Court Innovation and the humane treatment of persons with mental illness and co-occurring substance use disorders as well as other cognitive disabilities. The Court recently celebrated its 20th Anniversary where the achievements of the community was recognized in the Congressional Record by U.S. Representative Alcee Hastings on June 13, 2017.

Court Strategic Partners
• Broward Sheriff’s Office
• Broward County State Attorney’s Office
• Broward Public County Defender’s Office
• Board of County Commissioners
• Florida Department of Children and Families
• Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilities
• Broward Behavioral Health Coalition
• Henderson Behavioral Health Center
• Broward NAMI
• Broward Mental Health Association of Southeast Florida and 9Muses
• Chrysalis Behavioral Health Center
• Broward County Elderly Services and Veterans Affairs
• Smith Community Mental Health
• Banyan Health Systems
• Archways Inc.
• Broward House
• House of Hope/Stepping Stones
• Nova Southeastern University
• ARTS Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services
• Office of Broward County Public Guardian
• Broward Outreach Center
• Rebels Drop-In Center
• South Florida Wellness Center
• Broward County Family Success Centers
• Broward Addiction Recovery Center
• Broward Health
• 19th Street Crisis Unit (Henderson Behavioral Health Center)
• Fort Lauderdale Hospital
• Memorial Share Outpatient
• Susan B. Anthony Center
• Broward Housing Solutions
• Dynamic Health Care
• Correct Care Solutions (SFSH)
• United Way of Broward County Commission on Substance Abuse
• Broward County Crime Commission

Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren is the presiding judge of the court.