Kate Kendell

A Victory for Clay Greene

Filed By Kate Kendell | July 24, 2010 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living
Tags: California, Clay Scull, elderly gay couple, forcibly separated, gay elders, Harold and Clay, Harold Greene, LGBT relationships, NCLR, Sonoma County

Just days before trial was set to begin in our lawsuit on behalf of Clay Greene, Sonoma County officials have agreed to settle out of court with the elderly man, harold_greene_clay_scull-thumb-225x333-10982.jpgwho County officials separated from his partner, Harold Scull, after Harold was injured in a fall outside of their home.

Their tragic story captured hearts and headlines across the country, and generated an outpouring of support unlike anything we have seen before, along with intense, justifiable outrage that an elderly gay couple could experience such cruel mistreatment and abuse.

Sonoma County has agreed to pay Clay and Harold's estate $600,000, and defendant Agua Caliente Villa has agreed to pay $53,000. These payments are partial vindication for the nightmare Clay and Harold endured at the hands of county workers, who disregarded their 20-year relationship and failed to respect legal documents in which Clay and Harold named each other as agents for medical and financial decisions.

In addition to paying out a substantial sum, as a result of Clay and Harold's lawsuit, the County has changed or modified a number of important policies in its Office of Public Guardian, including requiring employees to follow protocols before seizing private property, preventing employees from relocating elders or others against their will, and prohibiting employees from backdating information in their guardianship databases.

No amount of money can ever ease the trauma, pain, humiliation, and fear Clay suffered in the months after Harold's fall. And nothing can ever make it possible for Clay to be at Harold's side when he died three months after they were separated.

We are awed by Clay's courage in standing up for himself and other vulnerable LGBT elders. We are grateful to Clay's court-appointed attorney, Anne Dennis, and elder abuse specialists Stephen O'Neill and Maggie Flynn of Tarkington, O'Neill, Barack & Chong, because their hard work and dedication led to this terrific result. We trust that this experience will go a very long way in ensuring that LGBT elders in Sonoma County are not similarly mistreated in the future.

But this victory is tempered by the harsh, sad facts of this case. Nothing can salve the heartache of being cruelly deprived of the opportunity to be with a dying partner. Nothing can make up for the unbearable reality that Harold died alone, without Clay by his side, after spending the final months of his life making a photo album for Clay of their life together.

This story truly haunts me, and underscores the need for everyone to be more educated about elder abuse within the LGBT community, and what each one of us can do to prevent a sequel to this tragedy. This case highlights the urgency needed for true and full LGBT equality across the country, rather than a patchwork of hit and miss state rights or protections. This settlement cannot undo what Clay and Harold endured, but it ensures that what happened to them will never happen in Sonoma County again. Someday, I hope I will be able to say the same for the rest of the country.

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It isn't enough. Of course nothing ever could be.

I don't understand how getting the county to agree to do what they were already legally required to do prior to the settlement is something to celebrate.

Also, it doesn't sound like this will agreement will have any legal effect beyond this one county. Perhaps there is something that the state can do to make this settlement binding throughout CA.

Yeah, Rory, according to the US Census Bureau there are 3,140 counties (or equivalents, such as the parishes in Louisiana) in the entire US --- so one down, 3,139 to go.

We've been told that we need to have durable powers of attorney, advanced medical directives, and updated wills to protect us from just this sort of thing. Not that I disgree with that advice, because I don't. But it didn't help these two poor men.

If this had been Mississippi or Texas, I suppose this wouldn't be quite as shocking. But California? A state where we are supposed to have legal protections regardless of the additional legal documentation? It's unthinkable. It's shocking.

Please forgive me if I'm incorrect. But do these "policy changes" actually change anything? It certainly looks like they just instituted new policies to make sure people followed the law and old policies.

The bleakly comic thing about this is the county DA's crowing that he would be able to prove in court that this was not a *real* relationship and that the state was well within its rights to act like this. I believe several Projectors received that email when we questioned what happened and why.

And suddenly the county is settling with a financial payout. Must been one helluva case they'd built.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 25, 2010 1:08 AM

Whenever anyone asked, shocked, how I could leave America I have referred to us as refugees from America fleeing to a land where no law or religion exists to favor or penalize us.

That is all I have ever wanted.

Robert, you are so right. My husband and I do not plan on staying in America after our working years are over. We will need protections afforded all citizens who are elderly in places such as Canada, Spain, Portugal, South Africa and a dozen other countries where our sexuality is not a barrier to full citizenship.

This at least gives some peace to Clay for his final years, but nothing can erase the pain and heartache he suffered and it still makes me want to cry.