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Sonoma County, Calif.

Gay senior wins legal battle

Published Sep 2, 2010 9:32 PM

The Sonoma (Calif.) County Board of Supervisors finally surrendered on Aug. 5. The board agreed to settle with Clay Greene, and he was awarded $650,000. Clay Greene and his partner Harold Scull had been forcibly abducted by the county in April 2008. Their possessions had been auctioned off after the city terminated the lease on their home.

Greene and Scull established legal rights for themselves as a couple despite bans on lesbian and gay marriage and other efforts to prevent legal recognition of same-sex unions. The couple had been together for 25 years and granted each other power of attorney in emergency situations.

When Scull fell ill in April 2008 and was taken to the hospital, Greene was denied the right to visit his partner, despite having legal power of attorney. When Greene attempted to gain his legally established rights, he was forced into a nursing home. Greene’s claims of unjust hospitalization were labeled “dementia,” and negative stereotypes about the elderly were used to remove his credibility and keep him locked away.

The couple were held against their will in separate hospitals. Scull died four months later, leaving Greene locked away and not even informed of his longtime partner’s death. Greene had tried to leave the nursing home where he was held, but was continually recaptured. (Bay Area Reporter Online)

In the meantime, the county confiscated and sold all the personal items inside the home that Greene and Scull had amassed together. Their collection of valuable artwork, furniture and even their two cats were auctioned off, with the proceeds going to Sonoma County. Finally, with the help of a lawyer, Greene was released from the nursing home after being held against his will for two months.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights provided Greene with three attorneys to represent him in his struggle for compensation. One of them, Gregory Spaulding, described the process of winning justice as “very expensive.”

Fifty witnesses sent affidavits to the court and were prepared to testify on Greene’s behalf. In addition, seven expert witnesses were paid to give their input on the case and testify at trial if need be.

Claims of domestic abuse that the county used to justify the abduction were admitted to be “unfounded” by officials.

Anne Dennis, Greene’s lead attorney, commented on how Greene had become “fragile” since the death of his partner. Now that a settlement has been reached, Greene will be able to enjoy what the legal director of the NCLR, Sharon Minter, described as “the secure environment he deserves.”

The struggle to obtain justice for Greene was galvanized around the U.S. by publicity garnered on Facebook, where over 19,000 people signed on for “Justice for Clay Greene and Harold of Sonoma County, CA.”