FORT COLLINS- Over the years, Fort Collins lawyers have noticed a lack of resources available to clients who may have mental health issues in their cases.
Matthew Haltzman, a lawyer with a background in criminal defense and civil litigation, has started his own firm that will provide clients with consultations with psychiatrists and doctors in a more affordable way. Haltzman has paired with his father, Scott Haltzman, who is a psychiatrist, to create Haltzman Law Firm.
“A lot of clients, when they reach out to a lawyer, have more needs than just legal,” Matthew Haltzman said. “They have a need to potentially have consultations with physicians, with doctors in their particular area, whether they were injured or whether it’s a criminal defense issue, but really the underlying issue is a mental health issue and addiction issue.”
Matthew Haltzman said he used to reach out to his father informally for consultations, but he wanted to formalize the partnership between lawyer and doctor to make it more beneficial to the client.
Lance Thibert, an attorney with the firm, served as a public defender in Larimer County for six years and said he often saw intersections between mental health issues and the criminal system over the course of his career. He said mental health issues often disproportionately impact poor people.
“Oftentimes they have limited, if any, access to mental health services,” Thibert said. “Really, there’s a movement that recognizes that, certainly, especially here in Larimer County. But what to do about that problem is a whole other piece.”
Thibert said there are already good treatment court programs in Larimer County in regards to mental health, but without immediate consultations, he wasn’t always able to get the right program involved.
“What’s really cool about this (law firm) is that we’re not doctors, obviously, but if we can get somebody immediately involved, I have more ammunition to figure out which program is more appropriate for my client,” Thibert said.
Thibert said people who have concurrent substance abuse issues often are locked in jail on a couple-hundred dollar bond, and they don’t have access to anything beyond what the jail can give them. He said being able to screen something with a doctor shortens that time frame and allows him to get his client into the correct program faster.
“The shorter amount of time you can get the correct program involved in that person’s case, the better outcome there’s going to be,” Thibert said.
Thibert said some of the programs available now include Wellness Court, which requires someone to plead guilty to get access to the program. He also mentioned the new Bridges Program, which he said is good for lower-level cases and a new jail-based service.
“You’ve got a specific client that’s better for each program, and that depends on where they are in their lives, what support they have and really what their mental health diagnosis is,” Thibert said. “So the more information I get, the better, and the sooner I get it, the better.”
Matthew Haltzman said his new firm can also benefit Colorado State University students. He said he’s had CSU students as clients in the past, and being college-aged always puts extra pressure on someone trying to get through a case.
“When CSU students get in trouble, they’re not just dealing with the police department and the courts; they’re also dealing with the University,” Matthew Haltzman said. “So if there is an addiction issue, a mental health issue, being younger and being in a new environment, it’s not uncommon for students to make mistakes.”
Matthew Haltzman said his firm will be able to provide that student with resources, defend them and get them through that process while being able to talk to the courts and CSU administrators.
“We can say ‘Here’s what we think happened,’” Matthew Haltzman said. “If we dissect this, not just from a legal perspective, but from a mental health perspective, here’s what happened. Let’s give this student another chance.”
Matthew Haltzman said, at the moment, the firm is made up of himself, two attorneys and his father Scott Haltzman, a psychiatrist consultant and a toxicology consultant who is also a trained pharmacist.
“As attorneys, we’re the first people that someone will go to, but you don’t get trained in law school on how to read a blood test or how toxicology works; it’s not taught in the curriculum,” Matthew Haltzman said. “It’s long been recognized that people who are these kinds of experts, people who have pharmacy degrees, are necessary.”
Matthew Haltzman said the District Attorney’s office has a whole team of toxicologists that is paid for by the state.
“In creating this law firm, my thought was, ‘Well, why can’t a private firm do that?’” Matthew Haltzman said. “’Why can’t we make that accessible to anyone who retains us?’”
Scott Haltzman said the biggest issue is that lawyers aren’t trained in medical issues, and even if they are knowledgeable on the subject, there’s always a gap.
“The idea here is to help close the gap in the knowledge base between a lawyer and what he needs to know medically or psychiatrically or psychologically,” Scott Haltzman said. “So that he can have those tools and go back to the district attorney or the judge or the client with the right tools to make sure the proper course of action takes place.”
Matthew Haltzman said Haltzman Law Firm is the only firm in Fort Collins that has this kind of access. He said that, traditionally, a lawyer takes a client, looks through their case and then determines if an expert is needed.
“If an expert is needed, a client needs to come up with a huge amount of money to have that expert get involved; that can be anywhere between $400-$600 an hour,” Matthew Haltzman said. “So you walk into a traditional law office (and) you’re expect(ed) to pay that kind of money if you want to have access to those kinds of resources. That’s why we felt we could be doing it a little bit differently by combining the legal with medical consultation.”