New York Times Bay Area reporter Gerry Shih, whom I met during the Prop 8 trial here in San Francisco, delved into Sonoma County’s response to the NCLR suit filed on behalf of Clay Greene. It sounds like the County is betting on its domestic violence defense, and perhaps incompetent lawyering on behalf of Harold Scull.
In court papers filed this week, Sonoma County said that the county official designated to act in such cases — the public guardian investigated and found “that Mr. Scull needed assistance to attend to his personal and medical needs and to manage his financial affairs.” Later, Mr. Scull formally nominated the public guardian “as his representative payee for Social Security benefits.”
The papers, which take the form of a motion to compel Mr. Scull’s former lawyer to give a deposition in the case, also assert that “Mr. Scull was afraid of Mr. Greene” and “Did not want to return to the home he shared with Mr. Greene.”
It also asserts that, “because there was not enough room at Mr. Scull’s new residence for all of his belongings, and to provide funds for his future care and maintenance, Mr. Scull consented” to have the public guardian sell his personal property, and that Mr. Greene was given an opportunity to come to the residence and take away his own property in June 2008, two months before the auction.
One thing that strikes me in this narrative is the timeline (thanks, Marcy, for teaching me to look!): Harold fell on April 27, 2008. And then:
In April 2008, after Mr. Scull was hospitalized after reportedly falling on the front steps of the couple’s home, Sonoma County officials arrived and began to remove and sell their possessions.
If so, that’s some pretty fast action by a county bureaucracy; makes me wonder what made them move so fast. They say they then gave Clay Greene an opportunity to come to his home and take away his own property. But the County had already begun to remove and sell their possessions two months previous!
There’s also the first appearance I have seen of an attorney for Harold Scull, named Ronald Preston:
Legal papers Mr. Spaulding [the lawyer representing Sonoma County and the county employees] filed this week in Sonoma County Court also say that Mr. Scull was represented by a lawyer, Ronald Preston, after his hospitalization and until his death.
The papers add that Mr. Preston “communicated with the representatives” of the county about Mr. Scull’s condition and about the sale of his property.
There does seem to be different treatment of this couple, though, based on their not being heterosexual, even if there were allegations of abuse:
Mr. Spaulding said the county had sold Mr. Scull’s possessions to “provide support” for him. When asked, Mr. Spaulding said he did not know how much money was in Mr. Scull’s bank account while he remained hospitalized.
“The county takes domestic abuse very seriously regardless of who is involved here,” Mr. Spaulding said. “It had nothing to do with gay marriage or that they were gay.”
Shannon Minter, a lawyer for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which is arguing on behalf of Mr. Greene, aid in an e-mail message that the domestic violence charge resulted from “unsubstantiated suspicions and allegations that the county never followed up on, because there was no evidence of abuse.”
He added: “The county was certainly right to take initial measures to investigate and determine whether there was abuse, which is a serious issue for many elders. But they did not treat this case as they would have for a heterosexual couple.”
The New York Times also provides a hosted Scribd-link to Clay Greene’s formal legal action against Sonoma County, if you’d like to read it.
Earlier FDL Coverage