17 May Colorado Criminal Defense Attorney Iris Eytan Interviewed by Law360 in Pro Bono Spotlight
April 29, 2019
Pro Bono Spotlight
In 2006, Eugene Zuniga was arrested in Colorado for stealing a bike and was declared unable to stand trial because of severe mental illness. But instead of being sent for treatment, he spent five months in a local jail without appropriate services, causing his mental state to deteriorate even further.
But even though Zuniga’s case attracted media attention and sparked a lawsuit that brought short-lived reforms, activists said that in the years since, not much has changed in Colorado for people with mental illness who have been charged with a crime. That might be changing, however, thanks in part to pro bono efforts by attorneys from Fox Rothschild, Snell & Wilmer
and several local Colorado firms.
In the latest development in a decade-long legal saga, the state of Colorado has agreed to a consent decree that would require it to provide evaluation and treatment to mentally ill criminal defendants within strict time frames or face up to $10 million in fines per year.
It’s something that Iris Eytan of Eytan Nielsen LLC, Caleb Durling of Fox Rothschild LLP and Ellie Lockwood of Snell & Wilmer LLP — who all helped craft and secure the consent decree — hope will make a big difference.
“The people that were waiting in Colorado were waiting six months, seven months, eight months,” Eytan said. “It was like ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,’ but in the jail, which is the most disturbing place to keep people who are mentally ill. They’re just not equipped to help these people.”