Kate Kendell

Meet Harold and Clay

Filed By Kate Kendell | April 20, 2010 9:30 AM | comments

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

The response to the horrific story of Clay Greene and Harold Scull has been very gratifying and inspiring. Clearly, their story struck a chord in all of us. To some degree we can't help imagining ourselves in exactly this situation. Forty-eight hours ago, few people knew their names, and now a Facebook page in their honor has more than 7,000 fans. harold_greene_clay_scull.jpgQuite simply, this case demonstrates how our relationships as LGBT people are so fragile, especially when we reach our later years. Just one small incident, in this case a fall down some steps, sends the world crashing down.

Harold and Clay were in a committed relationship for twenty-five years, and they lived together for twenty years. Both Harold and Clay had worked in Hollywood and were passionate collectors of film memorabilia. Harold had worked for MGM studios in the 1950s and was a favorite of Louis B. Mayer in the studio's heyday. At the same time, Clay worked in television with many popular stars of that period. In addition to his film industry career, Harold was an accomplished artist and avid collector, especially of Mexican and Central American Santos religious art and artifacts. Art, heirlooms, and memorabilia graced the walls of their leased home, in which they planned to live together until their deaths.

Several folks have commented about the legal status of Clay and Harold's relationship. These tragic events began in April 2008, one month before the California Supreme Court's historic marriage ruling. By the time the California Supreme Court ruled and marriages began for that brief six months, Harold was already hospitalized and Clay imprisoned in a nursing home.

The two men had not registered as Domestic Partners, and they may not have even known that option existed. But they had filled out all the paperwork that attorneys advise same-sex couples to create, including wills and powers of attorney for health care.

In every case our clients are human beings, and they are not perfect, which is why we all identify so fiercely with those we represent. At the time of Harold's fall he had already been experiencing some degree of mental impairment, and had been drinking. He fell down the stairs and became angry when Clay wanted to call an ambulance because he was afraid of what the result might be. (And as it turned out, he had good reason to be.) The paramedics who arrived on the scene suspected the possibility of abuse. But that suspicion was false. What happened over the next two months is when the nightmare truly began. Once Harold was released from the hospital to a nursing home, the county refused to tell Clay where Harold had been placed, forced Clay into a nursing home where he did not need to be, auctioned all of his possessions, including treasured and valuable works of art and family memorabilia, and took away his two beloved cats. The level of inhumanity is staggering.

After 25 years of a rich and shared life of devoted commitment, a couple at least deserves being able to be at each other's bedside at the last moments of life. Not only was Harold denied that comfort, and Clay denied the ability to be there to say goodbye to his life partner, but Clay was stripped of everything that mattered and gave him stability in his life.

We can't change what happened to Harold and Clay, but we can do what we try to do every day: to create a world where what happened to Harold and Clay never happens again.

Greene v. County of Sonoma et al.: Download a copy of the complaint


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Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | April 20, 2010 9:47 AM

I have said it before and I will say it again. Prepare and plan for the end of your days with as much interest as you would put in a cherished vacation. Develop a network of lawyers, financial advisers and younger friends to whom you can turn to protect you from the state.

I took the easy way out and live as physically far away from the United States as you can get, but no one of my partner's family or a state like Florida can prevent me from access to his care. Thank you for this Kate!

The sad thing is that it seems they did so -- and still got screwed over by everyone. All the legal documentation didnt save them one whit.

I hope there's a really special place in Hell for the people who did this.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | April 20, 2010 10:36 PM

Sean, Here is a practical example from "liberal" Florida. An 80 year old man (retired podiatrist)I know had a 90 year old partner and they separated their assets completely with the younger of the two owning their house and leaving it to the 90 year old in their wills. The elder had SSI income only and 40K in the bank. The younger person John always had the most assets anyway, but they lived fully as partners. They had been a couple for 40 years.

As Frank began to require 24 hour care poor John was beside himself with exhaustion and damaging his own health. With reluctance John finally placed Frank in a nursing home where the head of the Physical Therapy department was a younger gay man we all knew who himself had a 65 year old partner. John also visited Frank daily and the management and nurses were informed of their situation by: Their supportive primary physician in person and in writing, the head of the PT department, and their attorney. A precondition of his placement was that this nice nearby home would keep him after his 40K in cash assets were used and medicare-medicaid would take over so that the assets of John could remain intact.

John would visit Frank daily. John would have one meal a day with Frank. (and pay the family rate for it) John took Frank on drives around Palm Beach county in an enormous old car and staff knew to wheel Frank out to John's car and would come to pick him up after the drive. Staff takes best care of residents who are regularly visited.

I, was with John & Frank when Frank died in the hospital. We, my partner and I, made ourselves available to be support to John in his grief and now 87 year old John lives with and loves a 76 year old retired priest.

This is in one of the most hatefully repressive gay rights states in the union. We must network and create a whole web of associations for our benefit of gay and straight professionals.

Should I at 56 pre decease my 80 year old partner my building manager has been introduced to my Thai lawyer, who knows my American lawyer, who have wills covering our property in each country. They both know our investments company and the investments rep works with our tax preparer. They have one anothers emails and phone numbers. They would bring him home, sell our Thai assets, and he could live in comfort anywhere.

So, I am wrong, it is more like planning a two month vacation! :)

As an HIV+ gay man living in Montana, my partner may not be allowed medical access to me should I be ill- although Montanans are famous for the live-and-let-live philosophy, we can't take that chance. My parents and family members have been sworn to confess my partner as "immediate family", directives have been set up, options strategized.
This story has just galvanized our resolve, and help us to illustrate the peril to others. The only way to make sense of this tragedy is to use it to create a different outcome for others.

Thanks, Kate. You've done a real service.

Meanwhile, the local paper for Sonoma County is inexplicably letting itself get scooped on this by the New York Times: http://bayarea.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/20/suit-charges-elderly-gay-couple-was-forced-apart/

And the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: http://blog.seattlepi.com/stepforward/archives/202464.asp?source=mypi

And of course internet sites as diverse politically as Reason (http://reason.com/blog/2010/04/19/cold-and-cruel-in-sonoma-count), Gawker (http://gawker.com/5520375/california-country-separates-old-gay-couple-sells-all-their-stuff) and Fire Dog Lake (http://firedoglake.com/2010/04/18/sunday-late-night-harold-clay/) have been all over this atrocity.

But not the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat.

Why not ask them how long they intend to let themselves get scooped on a very big story that's unfolding in their own backyard? letters@pressdemocrat.com

SarasNavel | April 20, 2010 6:42 PM

Just up:
http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20100420/ARTICLES/100429976/1349

The county is now claiming that it was a case of domestic violence.

It's a wonder they haven't charged Clay with manslaughter.

I smell an attempt to muddy the waters, as it
still doesn't justify what they did,

As someone just jumping into this story today (and from another state), can someone please explain why a domestic violence case was handled by the county and not the police?

Isn't it U.S. law to report acts of violence to the police? How can the county possibly say that Clay was held against his will because of domestic violence if the police weren't involved?

And finally, why didn't the local newspaper ask these questions?

I'm very confused...

I got an email to a response I wrote Sonoma County... It is interesting to see what they have written. How will this play out?


sender-time Sent at 17:02 (GMT-07:00). Current time there: 8:54 PM. ?
to "Myers.Joshua"
date Wed, Apr 21, 2010 at 17:02
subject Email Response for Greene v. Sonoma County Inquiries
mailed-by sonoma-county.org
hide details 17:02 (3 hours ago)
Email response for Greene v. Sonoma County Inquiries


Thank you for your email regarding the Harold Scull and Clay Greene matter involving the Sonoma County Public Guardian’s Office. We appreciate the concern that has been expressed by the comments received and know that when the full facts are able to be revealed there will be a better understanding. It is the policy of this department not to disclose confidential matters concerning clients assisted by the agencies operating under its direction. This is consistent with federal and state privacy laws.

What can be legally shared at this point is as follows: The Sonoma County Public Guardian became involved in this matter as a result of a report from Harold Scull that Clay Greene had physically assaulted him, resulting in Mr. Scull's hospitalization. Mr. Greene's domestic violence against Mr. Scull has been independently verified during the course of litigation, including reports of witnesses who tended to Mr. Scull following his hospitalization. While criminal charges were not filed, that does not mean there was no domestic violence. In order to file criminal charges, there must be proof beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the highest standard known in the law.

Recent online commentary reflects a distorted presentation of the underlying facts. The County is confident that when the full facts can be discussed they will show the individuals involved received appropriate services. More importantly, we are confident that the facts will show that the services received by Mr. Scull and Mr. Greene reflect the ongoing commitment to protect vulnerable citizens from harm and that no issues of discrimination were present.

Unfortunately, it appears the Plaintiffs are trying to litigate this case through the internet and the press – trying to spin the case as one of insensitivity towards people who happen to be gay by County Staff. In fact, this case is really about domestic violence and the statutory obligation the County has to protect vulnerable individuals from abuse and harm.

The heart of this case is protecting an elder victim of domestic violence. That’s why the Public Guardian’s Office took the actions it did. The County has a long history of taking a strong stand against domestic violence no matter who is the victim.

Very truly yours,

Joshua A. Myers
Deputy County Counsel
Sonoma County Counsel's Office
575 Administration Drive, Suite 105A
Santa Rosa, California 95403

Given that a good portion of the suite is about the unlawful seizure of the complete assets of Harold and Clay, does this make sense?

AM

Kate, thanks so much for sharing this story with us! We need to do all we can to pressure California to make this right!

Thank you Kate for telling us about this awful story and for working to help Clay. What I would like to know is, is there a fund we could contribute to to go directly to Clay to help him get back on his feet and pay his bills, buy food, etc? I cannot imagine the hole in his life and heart from this loss but maybe we can help somehow.

ironically, the Press Democrat is owned by the NY Times.

If I were a lawyer, I would petition the court to have the Defendants tried for grand larceny and conspiracy to commit grand larceny or something to that tune. That way any of his valuables sold in the auction would become stolen articles, and subject to seizure by local police as such.

Were any of the articles transported over state lines, this would become federal jurisdiction- and they've got tons of resources. Then, the people who bought these articles could, in turn file a suit against the County to recover their money from the sale.

I would love to see gay rights enforced without having to change a single law. Not that I don't support gay marriage laws, but simply to show that these laws when followed BY THE LETTER defend gay couples just as much as straight ones.

There's so many options if you get creative and, excuse the wording, have a little fun with it. The law's not black and white for a reason. Why should homophobes be the only ones allowed to twist it to suit them?

Michael Putman | April 20, 2010 4:24 PM

I want to know to whom we can send letters and emails of protest and outrage to (aside from our own representatives). Is the a county office in Sonoma that we should be deluging?

Thank you for bring this story into the light of day. It may be to late to help those two poor souls, but it is not too late to change the situation for those who find themselves in similar situations in the future.

Even after reading a few versions of this story, I still don't feel I know a lot of the basic facts. Everyone is forwarding it around on Facebook and calling it an outrage, but I can't help wondering why certain things are being glossed over, and no one is providing any direct quotes from these two men. How can someone be "forced" into a nursing home against their will, if they are mentally competent, able to articulate their preferences to live on their own, and able to afford living on their own? Was that the situation here? The people writing about this story are doing all of us a disservice by not revealing more details about the situation of these two men and the factors that led to the county's actions. I am not one to be skeptical of government-sanctioned homophobia or institutional discrimination -- I know it's out there, everwhere, and affects all of us to some degree -- but before I get all angry and emotional about a story, as people are doing with this tale, I like to know more about it.

You might want to read the legal complaint filed by Greene's lawyer. It has quite a bit of detail.
http://www.nclrights.org/site/DocServer/Greene_v_Sonoma_County.pdf?docID=7461

This all sounds really sad. The poor guys, trapped in the system. Since I first read about this case, I've wondered *how* this could possibly have happened, since the paperwork was said to be watertight. Institutions have to act on *some* basis, even if the basis is later proved to be wrong (fortunately "I don't like your face 'cos you're gay/not white/ugly" is *not* a basis). So I looked up Clay's complaint. According to the complaint, Harold had some mental incapacity and the nursing home/authorities alleged/concluded Clay had dementia. There was also an allegation that Clay abused Harold (this from the pressdemocrat article).

According to the complaint, there were homophobic remarks and a whole lot of other inappropriate behaviour, but it strikes me now as more of a case of possible elder abuse. I don't think I would like to get caught up in that county's nursing home system.

More details here :
http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20100420/ARTICLES/100429976/1349

And the complaint : http://www.nclrights.org/site/DocServer/Greene_v_Sonoma_County.pdf?docID=7461

This all sounds really sad. The poor guys, trapped in the system. Since I first read about this case, I've wondered *how* this could possibly have happened, since the paperwork was said to be watertight. Institutions have to act on *some* basis, even if the basis is later proved to be wrong (fortunately "I don't like your face 'cos you're gay/not white/ugly" is *not* a basis). So I looked up Clay's complaint. According to the complaint, Harold had some mental incapacity and the nursing home/authorities alleged/concluded Clay had dementia. There was also an allegation that Clay abused Harold (this from the pressdemocrat article).

According to the complaint, there were homophobic remarks and a whole lot of other inappropriate behaviour, but it strikes me now as more of a case of possible elder abuse. I don't think I would like to get caught up in that county's nursing home system.

More details here :
http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20100420/ARTICLES/100429976/1349

And the complaint : http://www.nclrights.org/site/DocServer/Greene_v_Sonoma_County.pdf?docID=7461

Katie Walsh | April 20, 2010 11:02 PM

I live and grew up in Sonoma County and was absolutely sick to my stomach when I read this story. I saw in the first article that there was a court date in Sonoma County scheduled for July 16th and I wanted to know if this hearing would be open to the public or if any sort of gathering is planned.

Thank you for bringing this tragic story to light. I hope that some kind of justice can be brought to Clay and that this story will help to bring awareness and further the fight for equality.

Please send letters to the editor of the Press Democrat (local Sonoma County paper owned by NY Times) - letters@pressdemocrat.com

The article in that paper today quotes the County lawyer accusing Clay Greene of domestic violence.

http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20100420/ARTICLES/100429976/1033/news?Title=Lawsuit-alleges-abuse-of-gay-rights-in-Sonoma-County

Here's my response:

Dear Editor

In Paul Payne's story "Lawsuit ignites firestorm in gay community against Sonoma County," the County's lawyer, Mr. Spaulding, is quoted as saying that Harold Scull was hospitalized after Clay Greene, his partner of 25 years, attacked him. However, this allegation simply doesn't make sense. If Mr. Greene had attacked and seriously injured his partner, why wasn't Mr. Greene charged and arrested? Why wasn't a restraining order in place? Why wasn't Mr. Greene arrested for murder after his partner died in the hospital while recovering from his injuries?

County employees may very well have initially suspected abuse, but that is not what Mr. Spaulding stated. Unless Mr. Payne misquoted him, Mr. Spaulding stated that Mr. Greene had in fact committed a serious violent crime. If that accusation held any merit whatsoever, Mr. Spaulding certainly would have mentioned a criminal investigation and charges, an arrest, a restraining order, etc. Instead Mr. Spaulding appears to be utilizing an ancient and very unpleasant tactic -- blame Mr. Greene, attempt to undermine his character, and use highly charged insinuations to draw our focus from the heart of the matter.

For those who wish to become familiar with case lodged against the County, the docket submitted to the court lists the complaints in great detail. It's a sobering and at times chilling read. The docket is available free online at the National Center for Lesbian Rights web page (www.nclrights.org).

I also want to clarify that this isn't simply a gay rights issue. This is about all of us, our vulnerability as citizens and the particular vulnerability we face as we age. It isn't only the gay community that is deeply disturbed by this case. I will continue to closely monitor how this plays out, as will many of my friends. I don't know Mr. Greene, and I'm not gay, but I know wrong when I see it.

Greg Spaulding | April 21, 2010 7:22 PM

There have been a flurry of postings online that indicate an elderly couple was treated inhumanly by the County of Sonoma, but few people have questioned where this report came from, or whether there was another side to the story.

It appears that the Plaintiffs in this lawsuit are trying to litigate this case through the internet– trying to spin the case as one of insensitivity towards people who are gay by County Staff. In fact, this case is really about domestic violence and the statutory obligation the County has to protect vulnerable individuals from abuse and harm.

The Sonoma County Public Guardian became involved in this matter as a result of a report from Harold Scull that Clay Greene had physically assaulted him, resulting in Mr. Scull's hospitalization. Mr. Greene's domestic violence against Mr. Scull has been independently verified during the course of litigation, including reports of witnesses who tended to Mr. Scull following his hospitalization.

The people involved have been vilified online. We are confident that the facts will show that the services received by Mr. Scull and Mr. Greene reflect the ongoing commitment to protect vulnerable citizens from harm and that no issues of discrimination were present

The heart of this case is protecting an elder victim of domestic violence. That’s why the Public Guardian’s Office took the actions it did. The County has a long history of taking a strong stand against domestic violence.

If you are interested in hearing another side to this story, I hope you will take a look at a NY Times story at: http://nyti.ms/bu8QDq. Or better yet, wait until the facts can be disclosed in trial.

The allegations in Mr. Spaulding's post have been made before as a defense for the county's actions. The allegations of abuse are unfounded. The county was right to take initial steps to investigate whether there was abuse, which is a serious issue. But the county had no lawful or humane basis for continuing to keep Harold and Clay apart, for putting Clay into a nursing home against his will and without any medical determination that he was incapable of making decisions for himself, or for auctioning his possessions with no legal right or authority to do so.

I've seen the message being distributed by County Counsel in response to hundreds (thousands?) of letters from our community and individuals across the country (and the world) about the Greene v. Sonoma County case.

The email accuses Mr. Greene of domestic violence and says there just wasn't enough evidence to prosecute him. The memo states "In order to file criminal charges, there must be proof beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the highest standard known in the law."

However, law enforcement agencies don’t need evidence "beyond a reasonable doubt" to arrest suspects and file criminal charges with the Office of the District Attorney. What County Counsel failed to mention was that Mr. Greene was never arrested and criminal charges weren’t filed -- because there simply was no reason to do so.

The County’s unfounded accusation comes across as a very bizarre effort to justify violating Mr. Greene's rights, denying him access to his partner of 25 years, forcing him into a nursing home against his will, taking his beloved pets and selling his belongings.

If local law enforcement and the justice system found criminal charges to be unsubstantiated, the Public Guardian had no standing to behave otherwise.

John Davisll | April 24, 2010 9:51 AM

It is down right uncalled for when the U.S. gov't takes our taxes, but they won't let us Marry / Live together without being punished for something out of our hand situation...(like how we are born)

WestOfDenmanGuy | April 25, 2010 12:53 AM

Kate, I'm confused. In your other article you say, "Clay and Harold made *diligent* efforts to protect their legal rights, and had their legal paperwork in place--wills, powers of attorney, and medical directives, all naming each other." You make no mention that they never registered as domestic partners.

In the above article you say, "the two men had not registered as Domestic Partners, and they *may not have even known* that option existed. But they had filled out all the paperwork that attorneys advise same-sex couples to create, including wills and powers of attorney for health care."

Which is it? Were they (and their lawyers) diligent or ignorant? You seem to know this case pretty well - can you please ask Clay Greene why he and Harold never registered and get back to us?