Cold and Cruel in Sonoma County

Monday, April 19th, 2010

The National Center on Lesbian Rights points to a civil rights suit 77-year-old Clay Greene has filed against Sonoma County, California. According to the suit, when Harold, Greene’s partner of 20 years, fell ill, the county refused to let Greene visit him in the hospital, despite the couple’s meticulous efforts to name one another in their wills, powers of attorney, and medical directive documents. The county then went to court to argue that the local government should be given control of Harold’s finances, which for 20 years had also been Greene’s. (The county referred to Greene as a “roommate.”)

Despite an unfavorable ruling, the county apparently auctioned off the couple’s assets anyway. According to the lawsuit, the county then terminated the couple’s lease, removed Greene from his home, and confined him to a nursing home against his will. Greene’s partner died three months later. The two weren’t allowed to meet during that three months. Greene has since been released from the nursing home, but says he has nothing left. The county took everything he has.

This of course is only one half of a lawsuit. But unless the claims that Greene and his partner had all their legal work in order are false—and that seems like something that would be too easy to prove for Greene’s attorney to have exaggerated—Sonoma County’s actions here are unspeakably cruel.

The county’s treatment of Greene and his partner is being portrayed in the blogosphere as anti-gay bigotry, and that may well be true. But it also may be just another example of government abusing the elderly to get its hands on their stuff.

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24 Responses to “Cold and Cruel in Sonoma County”

  1. #1 |  Elliot | 

    Government at its finest.

  2. #2 |  Judas Peckerwood | 

    Those responsible should be charged with grand theft and false imprisonment, for a start.

  3. #3 |  parse | 

    It’s not just the blogosphere that’s portraying the county’s treatment of anti-gay bigotry; the complaint has specific reference to the defendants targeting Greene with anti-gay slurs.

  4. #4 |  JS | 

    I like the last line

    “The county’s treatment of Greene and his partner is being portrayed in the blogosphere as anti-gay bigotry, and that may well be true. But it also may be just another example of government abusing the elderly to get its hands on their stuff.”

  5. #5 |  SJE | 

    “But unless the claims that Greene and his partner had all their legal work in order are false—and that seems like something that would be too easy to prove for Greene’s attorney to have exaggerated—Sonoma County’s actions here are unspeakably cruel.”

    I disagree. The legal work will largely determine whether Sonoma County is legally liable, but does not determine whether this is unspeakably cruel: its pretty clear that Sonoma County WAS unspeakably cruel, irrespective of legal papers. You should not have to have a lawyer to ensure that you are not screwed.

    What’s more, Sonoma County IS being unspeakably cruel: how can it even be fighting this case? The fact that this is happening in commuting distance from San Francisco is even more striking.

  6. #6 |  Jerri Lynn Ward | 


    Re: your last link

    You will be pleased to know that the Kidd’s were sprung from that nursing home and went home. Another thing about that case is that the CPA that the judge put in charge of the Kidd’s finances did not have the required credentials. We could never figure out why the judge appointed him ;)

    That case made me wary of forgetting things in public. lest a busybody call APS on me. (Mrs. Kidd “forgot” to eat while at the hospital). In fact, I’m working with another attorney on my own will and estate and I told her that I want to make sure that if APS tries to kidnap me, they can’t get a cent of my assets.

  7. #7 |  Marty | 

    another person deprived of liberty and property by this government. this could be any of us. all it takes is someone figuring out how to manipulate the force of govt to obtain property or to enforce morals. as govt gets bigger, there are more people working in govt who spend their time trying to increase their wealth and power- at the citizens’ expense. someone is looking at this and thinking, ‘that’s a goooooood idea- it just needs a little tweaking…’

  8. #8 |  Kristen | 

    This makes me terribly sad. I don’t know what else to say.

  9. #9 |  April 19: The odd intersection of history and government « Guns, Germs and Blogs | 

    […] P.S. Radley Balko has a good response to the Clinton op-ed and the Sonoma County case. […]

  10. #10 |  Sydney Carton | 

    Regarding the Kidds, you guys should know that in America, all it takes to be murdered by the state is a judge. That judge locked the Kidds up against their will. The judge is at fault.

    Did Terri Schiavo teach you nothing?

  11. #11 |  Mike | 

    I predict we will see more and more of this. With states greedy for revenue, a growing senior care industry and grasping probate lawyers, the temptation to declare people incompetent and gobble up their possessions is going to be overwhelming.

  12. #12 |  S1ngularity | 

    It’s just another facebook fan page, but there’s one for this issue event too:!/JusticeForClay?ref=ts

  13. #13 |  Andrew Williams | 

    Sickening. I had no plans to go to Sonoma anytime soon. Make that EVER.

  14. #14 |  john | 

    we need to get this information earlier that way we could do something about it. (not intended for you, Radley).

  15. #15 |  Jake | 

    Well, you think that is bad. Think about this the Government makes about $2 billion dollars a year off of Social Security because same-sex partners are denied each others benefits and the amount is growing. This is nothing new for the third class citizens in the United States. Check out this website for more info:

    It would be great if Radley could do an article about that. Thanks for posting the story Radley!!

  16. #16 |  Charlie O | 

    I have to give Mr. Greene and the Kidds credit for using restraint and the legal system. Had someone, under color of law, taken everything I own, I would not have the patience or restraint to wind through the legal system. At this point, having lost everything, I would take the approach that there’s not much else left to lose. There’d be a trail of bodies.

  17. #17 |  God's Own Drunk | 

    Gays don’t need marriage, obviously civil unions are just as good.


  18. #18 |  Muffy | 

    It turns out that one half of the couple has worked in the film industry – with Samuel Goldwyn Mayer, I think – and the home was filled with movie collectibles from that era. Priceless stuff that was probably worth a lot of money.

    So were these men targeted for the contents of their home? Would the state have gone so far as to auction their belongings if they weren’t so valuable?

    Shameful, shameful, shameful.

  19. #19 |  ZappaCrappa | 

    So what’s the story? I’ve known that “the state” is a heartless, soulless, money sucking vampire for a few years now.

    My sympathies go out to these women and ALL who have been victims of the government by the people for the people screw the people rob the people.

  20. #20 |  supercat | 

    //Gays don’t need marriage, obviously civil unions are just as good.//

    Any competent person should be able to authorize any other competent person to be a hospital visitor, wield power of attorney, inherit his assets, etc. without regard for whether or not such people would be eligible to be married or have any desire to share a household. If a government is refusing to acknowledge such authorizations, that is a problem that should be fixed for everyone–not just people claiming to be married.

  21. #21 |  Salmon Tilapia | 

    This story hits kind of close to home for me, as I live in a polyandrous relationship with another man and a woman (yes, we’re all bisexual, and yes, the sex is as awesome as you think, but no, that’s not the sole reason we’re together). Anyway, we have three kids. We spent $10,000 drawing up powers of attorney, trust information, estate and asset protection, living wills, and specific disinheritances for family members who would try to fight our express wishes for the custody and care of our children should one or all of us die unexpectedly. Our attorneys assure us that the work is as bulletproof as it can possibly be, but now finding out about what the fucking state can do to take all of that away from us…we’re terrified.

  22. #22 |  Dr. Dredd | 

    I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but aren’t hospitals legally required to respect advance directives? (Hell, they’re legally required to ASK about them, according to Medicare.) In addition to all the other lawsuits, someone should be going after the hospital, Adult Protective Services, etc. for Medicare fraud.

  23. #23 |  CTD | 

    Looks like there may me more to this story. This is what the Sonoma County Counsel sent out:

    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

    One thing I’ve learned on the Intertubes is to ALWAYS maintain skepticism when a story is sources entirely on a lawsuit filing.

  24. #24 |  CTD | 

    Note that I’m not saying I believe the county, or that is did nothing wrong. Just that we should maintain proper skepticism, even when the story seems to fit in with our particular worldview.