The Story of Clay and Harold

Harold and Clay

[Post Updated 4/20/10 9:15 am PDT with photo of Clay and Harold and excerpt from the complaint]

Clay Greene and his partner of more than 20 years, Harold Scull, lived together in Sebastopol, California in the idyllic wine country of Sonoma Valley. 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. Harold was 88 years old and in frail medical condition, but still living at home with Clay, 77, who was in good health for his age.

One evening in April 2008, Harold fell down the front steps of their home.  Clay called an ambulance, and Harold was taken to the hospital.

Based on their medical directives alone, Clay should have been consulted in Harold’s care. Tragically, Sonoma County and health care workers instead refused to allow Clay to see Harold in the hospital.

There, then, the men’s nightmare began.

While Harold was hospitalized, Sonoma County Deputy Public Guardians went to the men’s home, took photographs, and commented on the desirability and quality of the furnishings, artwork, and collectibles that the men had collected over their lifetimes.

Ignoring Clay entirely, the County petitioned the Court for conservatorship of Harold’s estate. Outrageously referring to Clay only as a “roommate” in court filings, and failing to disclose their true relationship of close to 25 years, the County continued to treat Harold as if he had no family.  Sonoma County sought immediate temporary authority to revoke Clay’s powers of attorney, to act without further notice, and to liquidate an investment account to pay for Harold’s care.  Then, despite being granted only limited powers, the County hastily arranged for the sale of the men’s personal property, cleaned out their home, terminated their lease, confiscated their truck, and eventually disposed of all of the men’s worldly possessions, including family heirlooms, at a fraction of their value and without any proper inventory or determination of whose property was being sold.

Harold had worked at MGM Studios in the ’50s and ’60s and had an extensive collection of movie memorabilia.  Clay was an artist and businessman with an extensive collection of paintings, and owned a collection of one-of-a-kind Mexican religious art. The men’s two cats were taken from their home, have never been found, and are feared dead.

Adding further insult to grave injury, the county removed Clay from their home and confined him to a nursing home against his will—a different placement from his partner.  Clay was kept from seeing Harold during this time, and his telephone calls to Harold were limited. Three months after Harold fell, he died, without being able to see Clay again.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom marries Del Martin (L) and Phyllis Lyon (R), on June 16, 2008, after a 55 year engagement. They were the first couple to wed after the California Supreme Court recognized that marriage for same-sex couples is a fundamental right. Del died two months later.

“Because of the county’s actions, Clay missed the final months he should have had with his partner of 20 years,” said Clay’s attorney Anne Dennis. “Compounding this horrific tragedy, Clay has literally nothing left of the home he had shared with Harold or the life he was living up until the day that Harold fell. The only memento Clay has is a photo album that Harold painstakingly put together for Clay during the last three months of his life.”

Clay is now suing Sonoma County with the assistance of a court-appointed attorney and the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights. The case goes to trial on July 16, 2010 in Sonoma County Superior Court.

ADD: From the complaint:

On or about August, 2008, Defendants MICHAEL BREWSTER and KAREN STAGG-HOURIGAN, as employees of the COUNTY acting in their official capacities… did disparage and demean Plaintiff GREENE in his presence and in the presence of others, making and/or ratifying derogatory references to Plaintiff GREENE’s sexual orientation and age, stating “you know how those ‘gay boys’ are,” and rolling their eyes and smirking. On or about the same time, Defendant BREWSTER as an employee of the COUNTY acting in his official capacity as Deputy Public Guardian stated verbally in the presence of Plaintiff and others that Plaintiff GREENE’s and [Harold Scull]’s landlord “didn’t want queers in his house.”  After Decedent’s death, Defendants BREWSTER and STAGG-HOURIGAN further expressed displeasure at dealing with expressions of grief by a gay man who had lost his long-time partner.

…On or about June or July 2008 Defendants… did forcibly remove Plaintiffs’ cats “Sassy” and “Tiger” from Plaintiff and Decedent’s residence…taking possession of the animals without GREENE’s consent and over his objections and entreaties.

And to prove Chainsaw’s theory:

On or about June and July 2008, Defendants…and their agents, did Plaintiff GREENE’s and Decedent SCULL’s residence for the purpose of taking possession of and identifying the personal property.  Plaintiff is informed and believes that said employees made comments regarding the quality and desirability of [their] property, saying “this would look nice in my living room” and “my wife will love this.”

No amount of money will ever bring back Harold or the cats, or restore the material belongings and basic dignity stripped from Clay. But when the taxpayers of Sonoma County have to pay a shitload of money because of the wrongdoing of county employees, I hope they recognize that this cruel indignity directed towards Clay or any other human being is unacceptable and that fundamental civil rights should not be up for popular vote.

NCLR Elder Law Project
Greene v. Sonoma County
1,138 benefits the U.S. government provides to legally married couples
Presidential Memorandum on Hospital Visitation

They need to track down every buyer and expose what were probably straw buyers related to employees of the Public Guardian’s office who made the claim for liquidation.

Jesus God, have mercy.

…and people tell me that society is somehow “post-Gay”. We may be. However, we’ll never be “post-faggot”, if you see my meaning.


Holy shit that is horrible, especially considering that it comes from the public guardian office. At my last job, we did some work for the Maricopa County Public Fiduciary and I’m happy to say that those guys were/are probably the best damn thing about our fucked up county government. Is the public guardian appointed or elected out there in California?

TJ: In re geezer justices: lolz

@FlyingChainSaw: And the private auction company put in charge of selling everything off. I think there’s a reason the complaint names Does 1-50.

I wonder what the “Hands off my Property” tea-baggers think about this.

@TJ/ Jamie Sommers /TJ: I’ll bet Justice Thomas knows how to find stuff on the internet, if you get my drift.

@FlyingChainSaw: You’d think that the County Counsel would be calling up, begging to settle this case.

and these guys did everything right.
god help the rest of us.


That’d actually be a great head-asploding moment: tell the whole story (sans names) and get the ‘baggers all wound up about the evils of government elder care, etc.

Then mention, “BTW, the couple in question was two men.”

It’d be like a 2g1c reaction video times 100. :)

I’ve been reading about this all day. This is the most complete account and I thank you. Couple things I don’t understand. How could Clay have been put in a nursing home without consent? Where is Sonoma county and why should this have happened there? I can easily see myself alone and with no family here to help and it does not make me feel warm and snuggly. Is there some reason this happened to these two men in particular? This kind of hostility has never been my experience. We use a Catholic hospital and they have been nothing but respectful towards us. We’re in the process of renewing PoAs and updating living-wills if necessary. I wonder if their situation would have been different had they been married?

I have a feeling that we don’t know everything yet. It’s a heartbreaking story but why are we only hearing it now? Why did we hear nothing from Clay before? Not accusing anyone but something’s not right. You put yourself in his place. You have a phone. You have friends. Does he have dementia? I don’t get it. There’s something we don’t know.

But thanks for this report. And God bless the lesbians.

According to the NCLR website and what I’ve read, Harold had dementia along with physical problems, and Clay was starting to get dementia.

Under state law, the Public Guardian (PG) or Public Conservator (PC) acts as the legally appointed conservator for persons found by the Superior Court to be unable to properly care for themselves or their finances or who cannot resist undue influence or fraud. Usually the people are severely mentally ill, developmentally disabled, or elderly, with no family that is able or willing to take care of them (or the family is suspected of taking advantage of the person). The person is supposed to have an attorney appointed to represent them.

Sonoma County is just north of San Francisco and one of the most gay-friendly places I’ve ever been. They were at a Kaiser hospital.

I’m sure there’s more to the story, and a legal complaint, by definition, tells one side of the story. But NCLR isn’t a group that would play fast and loose with the facts, IMHO. There are 20 causes of action in the complaint, and I’ve only had time to scan the complaint and not read it closely, and I think that the causes of action are warranted.

As to why it’s taking so long – I have no idea, but it takes a while to file a law suit. And in these sorts of cases, you probably have to file an administrative claim first. Strategically, they may have waited to publicize it until now so as to get public pressure and humiliation that will force the county to settle.

@Benedick: It’s pretty easy for unscrupulous guardians to bleed the elderly dry. It’s something of a cottage industry in the private sector. And once the court has given a guardian/conservator free rein to do what’s in “the best interests” of the person, it’s damn difficult for someone else (relative or friend) to come in and challenge it.

I know of a case in Chicago where three sisters have tried without success to remove their brother as guardian for their wealthy aunt. He’s now suing them and winning. There’s been a similar case in the papers here in Arizona, although the reporter who is writing about it has a history of getting her facts wrong so who’s to say what’s really going on there.

@SanFranLefty: @TJ/ Jamie Sommers /TJ: Many thanks. This kind of story terrifies me. My husband and I have a spread in our ages. Most likely he will die first. And I don’t trust myself to remember what I had for breakfast. I have much loved nephews but they have their own lives.

We went down to see a play last week. About a man coping with his increasingly infirm father who will, by play’s end, descend from intransigent rage into dementia. The play itself is caught up in our personal lives but suffice it to say that the author (thinly disguised as the protagonist) was last seen by us in a wheelchair, entirely unaware of his surroundings, at the memorial service for the woman who was, in real life, the reason he left the father immortalized in his play to rot, and, in theatre life, the actress who created the part in its first production. We can all think: dementia: note to self; do not go there; do more crosswords. But that’s not how it works.

But these poor men.

@Benedick: Oh, and regarding your question about whether they were married – this happened a few months before the state supreme court decision that paved the way for gay marriage.

Getting old sucks, and dementia is especially terrible. My grandmother is on year 10 of complete Alzheimer’s and dementia. She is a husk of her former self, and it’s like she died 8 years ago, but the body remains. Her mind is gone, she can’t eat on her own or do anything at all but sit in a wheelchair at the nursing home and mumble. It’s been horrible. My dog had a more dignified death than she is having. My parents have vowed to kill themselves if they get a similar diagnosis to spare me what they have gone through.

@Lefty: sorry I don’t have the time to read this. I’m packing, giving skypey kisses to the biscuits, and going upcountry for the rest of the week. After that, a workshop at one of the Seven Wonders of the World, so most likely off the grid most of the next couple of weeks. No bat signals expected.

/’bisco out.

@SanFranLefty: This story both infuriates and scares the hell out of me. This isn’t down in Fucktardia, for one thing.

@SanFranLefty: Yes, but likely the auctioneers are professional trust predators and stand-up guys. The straws are the easiest to crack. Show them a copy of Brides Magazine and tell them to pick something out nice so they can be presentable to the neonazi serial killers who will wed them in jail house ceremonies and rape their sorry asses into a fucking coma before stomping their soft skulls flat. You’ll have the auctioneers story in hand promptly.

@FlyingChainSaw: I don’t understand what you’re talking about and I’m looking for practical help.

@SanFranLefty: I think I killed my mother. At the least I hope I helped her on her way. And I hope someone will do that for me. The measure of love these days is if someone loves you enough to kill you. Why I ask about marriage is that, it seems to me, the more of us who get legally married – in Canada City or Taxachussetts – the harder it is for them to deny the basic decencies of life. Our Canadyland marriage is legal here in NY. It means squat but might make this kind of story more difficult. That this is the way many seniors, straight and/or gay, are treated is a national disgrace.

@Benedick: Just speculating on how to get an indictable story into the hand of the Sonoma County prosecutors as fast as possible. In any white collar crime case, it is easiest to manipulate periphery players like lawyers, straws, accountants, etc who know the whole story or critical parts of it but are not the kind of professional racketeers who know how to tell a cop to fuck himself and keep his mouth shut. Clowns in the supporting cast of a scam can be more easily persuaded to tell the truth if the alternative is presented as a violent death at the hands of psychotic prison inmates. The accountant in a bank bust out seems reluctant to talk? Grab him by the ears and ask him to imagine what it feels like to have a fist in his ass pulling out his intestines. The average accountant will find his voice.

They won’t. Fight to the bitter end. If they’re this twisted, the only answer is a wooden stake through the sternum.

@Dodgerblue: You’d think that the County Counsel would be calling up, begging to settle this case.

The complaint is truly beyond belief.

@Benedick: I’m reading it more closely this morning and getting even more upset.

@SanFranLefty: Here’s my question: did the public guardian assert standing to act based on Scull having no living relations (dismissing spousal union with Greene as immaterial) – or that Greene was incompetent to manage and negotiate Scull’s affairs and simply swept him aside? If the latter, it’s a case of interest to anyone who thinks they may get old.

@FlyingChainSaw: A little bit of both, but more the latter.

@SanFranLefty: Why isn’t AARP going amicus all over this puppy?

@SanFranLefty: I had to stop if I hoped to get anything done.

@FlyingChainSaw: What Lefty said. And indeed, why not?

@Tommmcatt Loves The Giant Floating Head: Now would be a good time to find out.

did they have a domestic partnership arrangement?

and would that have mattered?

@Capt Howdy: I don’t know, and I don’t think it would have mattered. I’ve been talking to a few people about how these conservatorships work and apparently it’s like a roach motel – very hard to get out once the county and the judge think you need to be conserved. I heard a terrible story today from a public defender.

Since Sister Jamie said she’s done legal work with them before, I’m sure she has more insight.


We’ll miss you, buddy. Don’t forget us when you’re gone…

I’m sorry I felt compelled to click on the “older posts” link now.

This is horrific. And reminds me that Mr. Pedo and I have not done even the legal things to protect ourselves. Sure, he’s on my health insurance plan, and the house title, but we really need to get with a lawyer and pay $$$ for shit that would be automatic if we had true marriage equality. Yes, we were lazy and didn’t take advantage of the brief window of California opportunity while it lasted, but shit folks, it doesn’t mean all that much until our federal government recognizes us as equal citizens.

The worst part for me is to realize this kind of shit went down in Sonoma, which should be a beacon of “tolerance”, etc. Fuck, “tolerance”, just that word makes me seethe. Why the FUCK do I need to beg “tolerance” from anyone? Fuck you, Sonoma county haters. Fuck you with a diamond-studded dildo that will rip your ass to shreds. That’s how much I want you to be fucked, and without any pleasure from it.

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