April 15, 2010
From time to time, NCLR takes on a case that touches the hearts of anyone who hears about it. Such is the case involving Clay Greene and Harold Scull, and we are deeply grateful for the outpouring of support for Clay.
In April 2008, Harold Scull, who at the age of 88 was very frail, fell on the front steps of the home he shared with his partner of 25 years, Clay Greene. Harold had endured open heart surgery, was on a number of medications that made him uncomfortable, and was in declining physical and mental health. When Harold fell, he did not want Clay to call an ambulance. But Clay knew that the fall was serious and that medical attention was required. He did what any of us would do—he called the paramedics. When Harold, in a fury, told the paramedics that Clay had pushed him, they reported the allegations, which were found to be unsubstantiated.
Then Harold and Clay’s nightmare truly began. Instead of handling Harold and Clay’s case appropriately, the County of Sonoma filed for conservatorship of Harold’s estate, seeking control of Harold’s finances. Without authority, the County auctioned off everything that both Harold and Clay owned. Virtually all of the couple’s belongings, including numerous pieces of art, Hollywood memorabilia, and collectibles, were sold at auction or have disappeared. In an early visit by County employees to review the contents of the home, workers remarked on the couple’s treasures, with one noting how much his “wife would love” a piece and a second commenting how “great that would look in my house” on another. When Clay objected he was told to “shut up.”
County workers also removed Clay from his and Harold’s home and placed Clay in a different assisted living facility against his will. Three months after he was hospitalized, Harold died in a nursing home. Because of the County’s actions, Clay missed the final months he should have had with his partner of 25 years, and he has been unable to recover his possessions.
The vulnerabilities faced by the elderly in our society know no gender, race, class, or sexual orientation. But when our relationships and lives are not fully understood, embraced, and protected by the larger culture and by common experience, those universal vulnerabilities grow exponentially. In those moments we see how our lives exist in a fragile balance, where a simple fall can cause everything to come crashing down. NCLR is assisting the Law Office of Anne N. Dennis and Tarkington, O’Neill, Barrack & Chong in representing Clay because we want to make sure that what happened to Clay and Harold does not happen to anyone else.
In 1999, NCLR launched our groundbreaking Elder Law Project, which advocates for policies and legislation to protect the medical and financial rights of LGBT elders, and educates the professionals (health care providers, lawyers, case workers) who are charged with assisting them. Last summer, we released Planning with Purpose: Legal Basics for LGBT Elders, which we strongly urge every member of our community to read. What happened to Harold and Clay is a sobering reminder that we must take extra steps to protect our interests and rights.
This is a case that has touched many hearts. While we can never give Harold and Clay the peace they yearned for in their final days, we will continue to work for justice—not just for Harold and Clay, but for all LGBT elders.