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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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  • Jane Ujhazi

    I am glad the issue has been settled insofaras Mr Greene is elderly and needs to enjoy the rest of his life. However, dismissing or dropping the charges IN NO WAY should indicate this type of judgement, changing the rules to suit the situation and despicable action of STEALING these individuals’ property will go unnoticed and unpunished.

    It is unfortunate the sorry didn’t detail if the county officials involved have been fired for 1) their inexcusable actions in this case and 2) costing taxpayers over half a million dollars to settle the suit.

  • nancy

    I think what the county did to this couple was appalling! But I am happy that Mr. Greene will be able to enjoy the rest of his life in comfort and peace. We all recognize discrimination and the county was guilty of it and stealing and false allegations of abuse. Too bad a judge hadn’t been able to deem it so.
    Best wishes to Mr. Greene.

  • Ed-M

    I’m happy for Mr. Greens in that he obtained some compensation from Sonoma County for the gross injustice done to him by a handful of county employees and their friends and associates. Nevertheless, THIS INJUSTICE is why we need marriage equality for ALL couples in this country — not just heterosexual couples. For no government employee would even THINK of doing this to a married couple!

  • VJ West

    This case reflects SO many wrongs on SO many levels! First, as soon as the alleged “domestic abuse” was determined not to exist, the couple should have been re-united. This is an appalling misuse of the system that happens to family units of all genders, and needs to become a criminal offense against the state employees who do not act promptly to restore family units, regardless of gender, age, race, disability or economics, and the step up to support those units if needed.

    Second, that DROPPING a suit when there is a CLEAR presence of discrimination in order to reach an agreement on a property settlement is appalling. Holding hostage the compensation for theft of property to avoid open dialogue about the discrimination in the system is deplorable.

    My heart aches for Mr Scull, forced to be absent from his partner in his last days, and to Mr Greene for being deprived of being able to give comfort in those days to his partner of so many years. The processes, procedures and people responsible for treating these people in this manner need far more review and addressing than merely a better mechanism for stealing and selling personal property…and even more so if the issue of gender was the impetus for this horrible situation.

  • Gabe

    Good to know. Glad he can find some peace. Thanks for the followup article.

  • DanB

    Sadly, the abuse Mr. Greene experienced is all too common in the social services sector. If at least one thing positive comes of the Internet and social networking, it’s that professional bullies like the ones involved here realize the world is, indeed, watching their every move. Don’t push around the little guy, because there are a whole lot of us who’ll push back.

  • Michael

    I will never buy another bottle of wine on which the word “Sonoma” appears for the rest of my life. The settlement is a fraction of what I would deem appropriate for what was done to Greene by Sonoma County.

  • Jamie Harding

    It is nothing short of horrific that this couple had to suffer through this. I am glad that, at the very least, Mr. Greene has some security in his final years. Compassion and simple human decency should have prevented this situation from happening in the first place.

  • johnny33308

    I’m usually a very forgiving person but in this instance I truly believe that some people need to be fired for the unbelievable suffering inflicted upon this couple. The persons involved, the frontline people and their superiors upline both need to be fired from their positions so that they cannot harm others in the way they harmed this elderly couple. Their cruelty likely is not a one-of and so they should be prevented from working with people ever again-old, young, in need, or whatever-they should never be allowed to injure anyone else in such cruel ways ever again. The officials involved are obviously much too cruel to allow near other vulnerable people at all. It is apparent their hearts are not filled with love and compassion-something very necessary for working with vulnerable people. This is the truth, sadly. This situation must never be repeated-this discrimination must be stopped forever. Please remove these cruel, bigoted, uncompassionate people from contact with people who are in need.

  • Helen

    This happened to my husband’s cousin. They had been together for 25 years. When one was dying of cancer, the other was denied visitation in the hospital by the family. She died alone. Her family wanted nothing to do with her because she was a “sinner” but they also didn’t want to have her partner be there. When she died, the family then tried to get a court order to sieze everything they had bought together, including their home. It cost nearly $80K to get rid of this evil family.

  • Jeff

    While I’m glad Mr. Greene was able to settle quickly without dragging this out for years to the benefit of no one (if he’d fought Sonoma, odds are he would’ve died before it was settled), and he can go about getting some semblance of his life back… what’s left of it after being raped by the state/county.

    I’m SO angry that this actually happened in one of the states where LGBT people have so many protections, and these men DID have legally binding wills which the county chose to ignore… The settlement was IN NO WAY justice.

    I’m pissed off that the county got away with paying $600,000 for the net worth of 20 years of two people’s lives… if you lost your husband of 20 years, your house, your land, your pictures and everything sentimental to both of you, you were denied seeing your partner in his last days, your civil rights are denied and you’re essentially a ward of the state with no voice in your own affairs… is that worth $600,000? Sonoma gave him $600,000 and rescued one photo album to remember his partner of 20 years… This is just disgusting. Makes me sick that I’m an American… AND live in California.

    one last thing… :
    “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

    Mr. Spaulding… how dare you… that statement, with the “wasn’t realistic” comment, just proves that rats are more respectible than the county’s lawyers. What a disgusting excuse for a “human” being you are. The county took away their lives and denied them their last days together, I’d have asked for $1 billion. What are the memories and emotions of 20 years worth to you?

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