Late yesterday evening, Clay Greene and the estate of Harold Scull, Greene’s deceased partner of 20 years, reached a settlement resolving their lawsuit against the County of Sonoma (“County”) and other defendants.
Greene and Scull’s estate will receive more than $600,000 to compensate for the damages the couple suffered due to the County’s discriminatory and unlawful conduct.
“What Clay and Harold lost can never be replaced, but this settlement brings a measure of justice to their story,” said Amy Todd-Gher, Senior Staff Attorney for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which represented Greene with The Law Office of Anne N. Dennis and Stephen O’Neill and Margaret Flynn of Tarkington, O’Neill, Barrack & Chong. “This victory sends an unmistakable message that all elders must be treated with respect and dignity, regardless of their sexual orientation, and that those who mistreat elders must be held accountable. Even as we celebrate this victory, however, we are deeply troubled that the County of Sonoma continues to refuse to take responsibility for their egregious misconduct and violations of the law in this case. We urge every citizen of Sonoma County to demand more oversight of the Public Guardian’s office. They need to be watched.”
Greene and Scull lived together for 20 years and had executed both mutual powers of attorney for medical and financial decisions and wills naming each other as beneficiaries. In April 2008, County employees separated the couple after Scull fell outside their shared home. In the next three months, County officials ignored the couple’s legal documentation, unlawfully auctioned their possessions, terminated their lease, and forced Greene into an assisted living facility against his will. The County did not consult Greene in Scull’s medical care and prevented the two from seeing one another. In August, 2008, before the partners could be reunited, Scull passed away after completing a photo album of the couple’s life for Greene.
In August, 2009, Greene and the representative of Scull’s estate, the couple’s longtime friend Janette Biggerstaff, filed a lawsuit alleging elder abuse, elder financial abuse, breach of fiduciary duty, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, and other claims.
In addition to agreeing to pay a substantial sum, as a result of the lawsuit, the County has changed or modified a number of important policies in its Public Guardian’s Office, including requiring County employees to follow protocols before seizing private property, preventing County employees from relocating elders or others against their will, and prohibiting County employees from backdating information in their guardianship database.
“This settlement will allow Mr. Greene to finally have the quiet retirement he deserves,” said Anne N. Dennis, one of Greene’s attorneys. “Although nothing can undo the harm to these gentlemen, we believe the changes made because of the lawsuit will improve services to elders and other individuals who need the assistance of the Sonoma County Public Guardian’s Office.”
Plaintiff Jannette Biggerstaff, the executor of Scull’s estate and a longtime friend of the couple, added: “There is no possible justification for what happened to my friends Harold and Clay, and I still feel outraged and heartbroken that they suffered such a terrible tragedy, which was made worse by the county spreading such terrible lies about Clay,” she said. “But I am pleased that their rights have been vindicated, and I’m hopeful that their story will help to prevent this from happening to other vulnerable people.”