Plot Thickens in Sonoma Discrimination Case

by Mac McClelland | Mother Jones

I appear to be having my own personal little pride week over here. In part three of my recent gay-rights rampage, let’s talk about the case of Harold Scull and Clay Greene.

Last week the story of Sonoma County’s treatment of this elderly gay California couple came out: When Scull was hospitalized in 2008, county workers kept Greene from seeing him, despite the couple’s legal medical directives, put Scull in a nursing home without consulting Greene, detained Greene against his will in a different nursing home, and seized and sold all of both men’s belongings to pay for the care of Scull, who died a few months later. Greene, naturally, is suing. Sonoma County is saying it did what it did because it was afraid Scull was being abused.

I’ve made clear before that I have trouble being sympathetic toward spouse-abusers, but discrimination is discrimination, and discrimination is never right. Or as one of Greene’s lawyers, Shannon Minter, more articulately put it, “The county was certainly right to take initial measures to investigate and determine whether there was abuse, which is a serious issue…But they did not treat this case as they would have for a heterosexual couple.”

That last sentence is key, and it needs a little unpacking. What’s the difference, I asked Minter, in the way the county would’ve handled the case were this a heterosexual couple dealing with allegations of abuse?

Ordinarily, they would have sought conservatorship of Harold’s person. They did not. They sought conservativeship of Harold’s estate only. That is peculiar right out of the box. Then what they did subsequently was just try to get rid of Clay [Greene], get Clay out of the picture, without any recognition that these two people had been together for so long.

Then they did something you see in nightmares and scary movies:

They had Clay put into a secure nursing facility and claimed that he had dementia when he did not. And they did not follow the legal procedure for putting someone in a secure nursing faciliity. You cannot do that without having the person evaluated by a doctor to determine whether they’re capable of making their own decisions. He tried to leave. He tried to walk away, to climb over the fence, but they would physically prevent him from leaving.

Then the county sold all Greene’s possessions, along with Scull’s. Greene’s pickup truck, his mementos from when he worked in the movie industry. When the county originally requested conservatorship of Scull’s estate, a judge denied it. It’s not clear whether it got legal control of his property eventually, but it certainly never had legal control of Greene’s. So even if Greene had been abusive, it seems the county was alarmingly out of line. “If this had been a married heterosexual couple,” Minter says, “they couldn’t have done these things. And wouldn’t have done these things.”

In a recent twist, it’s looking more than ever like Greene wasn’t abusive, anyway. The DA had already come to the conclusion that there wasn’t enough evidence of abuse to prosecute. It’s not clear if the county investigated further before deciding to force Greene into a home and sell all his stuff, but if it did, it must not have consulted the allegedly-abused’s best friend and executor of estate: Yesterday, she published an op-ed in the local Press Democrat saying that the allegations are totally unfounded. She’s become a plaintiff in the case against Sonoma.

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