CARSON CITY — David Kladney first handled cases for disabled, mentally ill people as a young lawyer in Reno in the 1980s.
He quickly became sympathetic.
“Not everybody is born with the same tools,” Kladney said in a phone interview last week. “They didn’t ask to be the way they are. They deserve the best we can do.”
What Kladney did in the Reno courts decades ago could be duplicated Friday when the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights holds a briefing in Washington, D.C., on patient dumping and the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, which requires hospitals to treat emergency patients and not release them before they are stable.
If this sounds like an inquiry into patient dumping at the Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas, that’s because it partly is.
“I read the newspapers all the time,” said Kladney, 65, who was appointed to the eight-member Civil Rights Commission by U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., in 2011.
He well knows that the Sacramento Bee found a mentally ill man was given a bus ticket out of Rawson-Neal to Sacramento, Calif., a city where he had no friends or relatives. An investigation later found that 1,500 people had been bused out of Nevada to other states over a six-year period. Two employees at Rawson-Neal were fired, and a chaperone policy has begun for those bused out of the state.
Kladney said he isn’t out to embarrass Nevada, but to help the mentally ill. He noted that one of the federal civil rights of people is to be free from discrimination based on disabilities, and that mental illness is a disability.
POWER TO SPAWN DISCUSSIONS
The commission could recommend Congress change funding laws and allow federal Medicaid funds to be spent on treating 21- to 64-year-old patients at Rawson-Neal and to construct a facility so the mentally ill don’t clog emergency rooms or take up jail space. It might be as easy as redefining what is classified as an emergency in federal law, he said.
Civil Rights Commission members draw up recommendations that are submitted to Congress by Sept. 30. The commission has no enforcement power, but its recommendations spawn discussions on various civil rights problems and often lead to action in Congress.
Commissioners hold monthly daylong meetings, including six briefings on subjects involving suspected discrimination chosen by commissioners. Of the eight commissioners, four are appointed by the president and four by Congress. No more than four can be from the same political party.
Kladney recommended looking into patient dumping in October.
The commission staff members prepare reports on the subjects that commissioners are exploring and schedule appearances by witnesses. Nine witnesses will be called Friday, including Staci Pratt, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada. They are expected to report on how many patients around the country have been discharged prematurely and whether deficiencies in federal expenditures to the states led to patient dumping.
Kladney noted that he also proposed a subject for the commission’s primary briefing in 2013. That report was about sexual assault in the military, a topic that has sparked congressional hearings and discussions and led to change in how the military handles such cases.
Friday’s briefing will not be televised.
The commission studies alleged deprivations of voting rights and alleged discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, age, disability, national origin or in the administration of justice. Through its work, commissioners try to enhance the enforcement of federal civil rights laws.
SON OF A MECHANIC
The son of an auto mechanic — a fact that makes him proud — Kladney is a graduate of the University of Nevada, Reno’s journalism school. He began his career as a news broadcaster in Reno.
He first met Reid when he worked for the TV station and has contributed to his campaigns.
He is a Democrat, but said he never had any interest in running for political office.
After several years in the news business, he attended law school. He graduated from the California Western School of Law in San Diego.
He returned to Nevada in 1977 and became the first staff counsel for the State of Nevada Employees Association. Over the years he has been a sole practitioner in Reno, a deputy state attorney general assigned to the Nevada Department of Transportation, a lawyer for the Nevada Division of Investigation and at one point had a practice for mentally disabled people.
In 2000, he sold his legal business and for three years offered free legal work for people in need. The state Supreme Court named him Nevada Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year in 2004.
Not wanting to retire completely, Kladney said he made inquiries of Reid’s office about whether there were any jobs he might do. He sent in his resume and Reid named him to the Commission on Civil Rights.
He and his wife, Debbie, have two adult children — a son completing medical school in San Francisco and a daughter who works with the World Bank.
While Nevada isn’t alone in patient dumping, Kladney said states such as Hawaii and New York pay for flights to send mentally ill people home after their conditions are stable.
Two lawsuits are pending in California over alleged patient dumping at Rawson-Neal. Dr. Tracey Green of the Nevada State Health Division said Wednesday there are no new developments in the lawsuits.
But Kladney pointed out that Nevada is no longer a small state and has a responsibility to provide proper care for disabled, mentally ill people.
He noted that Clark County, if it were a city, would be the sixth-largest city in America.
Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at email@example.com or 775-687-3901. Follow him on Twitter @edisonvogel.