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Settlement reached in case of gay couple kept apart during man’s last days

A California man whose claims of elder abuse and discrimination have galvanized gay rights advocates across the country agreed to settle his lawsuit against Sonoma County  Thursday.

Harold Scull and Clay Greene in an undated photo. Photo courtesy of Clay Greene.

In April 2008 Clay Greene, 77, was separated from Harold Scull, 88, his partner of more than 20 years, after county officials deemed that injuries Scull suffered were the result of domestic violence. The county district attorney later discredited that claim, but county employees kept the two men in separate facilities. Scull died three months later. The county then auctioned off all of the couple’s belongings to pay for Scull’s hospital fees.

Greene sued the county for an undisclosed amount with the assistance of the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco.

As part of the settlement reached Thursday, Sonoma County agreed to pay $300,000 for Greene’s legal fees, $275,000 to Greene himself, and $25,000 to the estate of Harold Scull for any property that may have been auctioned off under value.

The county also said that, as a result of the circumstances surrounding the case, it had altered some of its policies for property disposition and case management in such cases. Specifically,it will now appraise all of a conservatee’s assets before selling or auctioning them off. Scull and Greene’s assets were auctioned off without being appraised.

“These kind of civil violations need to be carefully watched,” Greene’s lawyer, Anne Dennis, said Friday. “Hopefully, the changes made will have positive effects on all seniors in the county, not just gay or lesbian seniors.”

The settlement came a few days before the trial was set to begin, on Tuesday, July 27. The county said the settlement was an effort to avoid the legal fees of a trial, which might have exceeded $1 million. In return, Greene’s legal team dropped all charges of discrimination against Sonoma County.

“From the beginning … we’ve been trying to figure out – ‘How can we resolve this?’ But the other side wasn’t realistic,” said Greg Spaulding, a lawyer for Sonoma County. He said the county was pleased with the resolution and noted that the settlement in no way validated the claim that the case workers discriminated against the men’s sexual orientation.

Greene is also happy with the result, according to Dennis. He now lives in the same residential facility where his partner spent his last days.

“He feels good, he’s put on a little weight … He’s going to have a nice life,” Dennis said.

Dennis maintains that the details in the complaint — specifically the county workers’ discrimination against Greene — are true. But rather than put Greene through a lengthy trial and a possibly lengthier appeals process, she said she preferred to make sure that he received, “a nice quiet retirement.”

“[Clay] is almost 80 years old,” she said. “I want him to be able to enjoy his life.”

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