TACOMA, Wash. -

A judge in Tacoma has decided to allow mentally ill patients to be held without treatment in hospital emergency rooms for another six months while her earlier ruling that the practice is unconstitutional is considered by a higher court.

The News Tribune reports that Pierce County Superior Court Judge Kathryn Nelson on Tuesday granted a second six-month stay of a ruling she issued in June. In that ruling, she said the practice of "psychiatric boarding" violates state and federal law by denying people with mental illness the treatment they are supposed to receive.

The judge granted the initial stay to give lawyers time to file arguments with the state Court of Appeals. That process won't be complete until next year. This second extension moves the deadline to next July 1.

The boarding practice allows the state and counties to use hospital emergency rooms to house people awaiting civil commitment for mental illness.  Those patients may wait weeks or months without treatment, due to a statewide psychiatric bed shortage.