Suspended commissioner Atkins-Grad says she’s incompetent to stand trial

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

By Paula McMahon

Published August 13, 2011

Suspended Tamarac Commissioner Patricia “Patte” Atkins-Grad is arguing that she is mentally incompetent to defend herself against public corruption charges.

Atkins-Grad’s neurologist said the 65-year-old suffered a mild stroke, her attorney Kenneth Malnik said Thursday after a brief court hearing.

“There are some definite neurological issues, she’s having some memory issues … and of course the allegations go back to 2006 so I need her to be able to remember some things to assist in her defense,” Malnik said. It’s unclear when she had the stroke but an MRI scan has revealed “some abnormalities,” the lawyer said.

Three court-appointed psychologists evaluated Atkins-Grad’s mental condition recently — two of them reported back that she is competent to proceed with the criminal case, and the third found her incompetent, Malnik said.

Broward Circuit Judge Bernard Bober said Thursday that either he or a mental health court judge will consider testimony from the politician’s doctor and the psychologists in the next few weeks, then issue a ruling.

If Atkins-Grad is found legally competent, the case will continue. If she is found incompetent, the case will be placed on hold and she will be re-evaluated periodically to see if she regains competency. If that happened, the criminal case would resume.

To be criminally prosecuted, make a plea agreement or go to trial under Florida law, defendants must be able to understand the charges and the possible punishment as well as have the capacity to tell their attorney any relevant facts about the alleged offense.

Atkins-Grad, who showed no obvious physical symptoms, was in court Thursday but did not speak. She is free on bond while the case is being prosecuted.

She was charged in June 2010 with several felony counts of public corruption. State prosecutors say that, in exchange for voting for a massive private housing project in the city, she accepted $6,300 in illegal payments from developers Bruce and Shawn Chait. The money was used to lease a BMW 525i for Atkins-Grad and to pay for the registered Democrat’s election victory party in 2006, prosecutors say.