Who Abused Who? Gay Rights Law Firm Battles County

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Harold and Clay, Sonoma County Couple

The recent Obama memorandum allowing gay couples visitation rites to partners in hospitals and care facilities came a little too late for Clay Greene, 78, and his partner of 2 decades, Harold Scull, 89.

In April of 2008, Scull took a fall down the front steps of their home in Sebastopol, CA. The accident occurred when Scull’s health was beginning to deteriorate and Greene was showing signs of cognitive impairment.

The fall has led to a lawsuit being prosecuted by the National Center for Lesbian Rights. It has opened up a vicious debate between angry county officials who suggest they acted out of compassion and Greene’s lawyers who say the county actions constituted gross negligence and false imprisonment of an innocent gay man.

Based on allegations that Scull may have actually been the victim of domestic violence, and that all was not so pretty in the home, deputy public guardians stepped in and removed Greene from his stewardship of the property.

According to the NCLR suit, the County improvidently revoked Greene’s power of attorney and proceeded to liquidate his assets, auctioning off the possessions the partners had acquired over 20 years together. The suit alleges that no care was given to see whose property belonged to whom, and the county’s actions were violative of Greene’s civil rights, which amounted to fraud and a breach of fiduciary duty. The county refused to acknowledge their long term relationship, referring to them in legal documents as ‘roommates.’

The end result of the county’s actions and deeds, was that Greene was removed from his home, and separated from Scull, his partner. Greene was placed in a nursing home against his wishes. The two were unable to see each other, making only limited phone calls over the last 3 months of Scull’s life.

While Scull put together a scrapbook of memories for Greene during his final months, before passing away in August of 2008. Clay Greene was never able to see his partner alive again, though all the legal and necessary estate work had been prepared for each to make decisions for the other.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights was contacted by Greene’s attorney and has since mounted a national campaign to bring attention to the gross abuse of human rights in this case. The suit has now been filed.

“We see a lot of tragic cases but this is really one of the worst things we have seen, on a level that we don’t see very often,” said Melanie Rowen, an attorney with NCLR handling the case. “This is a case where Greene and Scull had taken the precautions of appointing each other with power of attorney over financial and medical decisions. Here the county went outside the bounds of law. They wanted control over Howard Scull’s estate and did so by filing action that overruled Greene’s power of attorney.”

“I think tragically it’s a problem of the way aging works in the U.S.,” added Rowen. “Greene didn’t need to be in a care facility and although traumatized, his attorney Anne Dennis of Santa Rosa made it clear that none of this needed to happen. Currently he is living on his own in an apartment in Guerneville, Sonoma, CA.”

However, the Deputy County Counsel of Sonoma County counters NCLR and Greene’s position, implying domestic abuse. Joshua A. Myers contends they were within their rights. They are firing back.

“Mr. Greene’s domestic violence against Mr. Scull has been independently verified during the course of litigation, including reports of witnesses who tended to Mr. Scull following his hospitalization. While criminal charges were not filed that does not mean there was no domestic violence. In order to file criminal charges, there must be proof beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the highest standard known in the law.”

The case has been set for a July trial in a California courtroom. It could prove to be a landmark case of abuse against elderly gay partners, or the county may have uncovered a stunning case of domestic elder abuse. Time will tell.