No reason to separate gay couple, friend says
by Lois Pearlman
A friend of an elderly gay couple in Sonoma County who is a co-plaintiff in a lawsuit against the county said there was no reason to separate the men in 2008 and sell off their belongings.
In an interview this week, Jannette Biggerstaff said the men did not have an abusive relationship and the county did not have to protect Harold Scull from his partner, Clay Greene. Scull died in August 2008 at the age of 88.
"There are other relationships I've questioned," said Biggerstaff, "but never Clay and Harold."
Last year, Biggerstaff, acting as the executor of Scull's estate, and Greene filed a lawsuit in Sonoma County Superior Court against the county, several county officials, an auction company, and a nursing home, saying they acted illegally when they put Scull and Greene in separate nursing homes, and sold the men's property to pay for their care.
County officials, however, have said the case is one of elder abuse and that Scull was afraid of Greene and did not want to go back to the home they shared outside of Sebastopol after Scull suffered minor injuries in an April 2008 incident. The county says Greene attacked Scull. The lawsuit says Scull fell.
But Biggerstaff, who had known Scull for 40 years and has known Greene since the couple got together over 25 years ago, said she had spent a lot of time with the two men, at parties, visiting each other's homes, and playing cards. She never sensed any violence between them, she said.
"They lived a fabulous life surrounded by beautiful things. Clay is probably 16 years younger than Harold and absolutely took care of him," she said, describing Greene, as a wonderful cook who rescued Scull – who couldn't cook at all – from a steady diet of cold pork and beans from a can.
"They had, as far as I was concerned, a perfect relationship," she continued. "They went to museums and traveled through Europe. They entertained and had a lot of friends."
She said Greene, 78, called her after Scull went to the hospital and told her Scull had been upset about leaving in an ambulance. She said Scull, who had once been "gregarious and charismatic" had become grumpy due to bad health and early dementia.
The lawsuit, which received wide publicity last week, also says the two men were never able to see each other again after Scull went to the hospital. The county placed them in two different assisted living facilities, saying neither of them were able to care for themselves. Scull died in the board and care home four months later. Greene was able to get out of his assisted living home with the help of a court-appointed attorney. He is now living in a studio apartment in Guerneville on an inheritance he received from Scull.
According to the lawsuit, the items the county took included paintings by Scull and other artists; Persian rugs; pre-Columbian Santos statuettes; antiques and other mementos given to Scull by friends in the movie industry when he worked for MGM; Greene's pickup truck; family artifacts; furniture; garden art; silverware; jewelry; and other things. The items were worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to the lawsuit, but the county auctioned them off for less than $40,000.
The county also took the couple's two cats, Sissy and Tiger, "grabbing them by the neck," according to a statement by Greene.
"They even took his clothing," Biggerstaff said, referring to Greene. "He couldn't even go out to buy cat food because they took his truck."
But Greg Spaulding, a Santa Rosa attorney who is representing the county, said the allegations in the lawsuit are not true.
According to Spaulding, Scull told county officials to sell his belongings, although he did not give them permission to sell Greene's possessions. And he was able to select some of his possessions to take to his assisted living home before the county took the rest away.
Spaulding also said Greene ended up in an assisted living home because he "asked for help" and Greene was able to see Scull before he died. The two cats, Sissy and Tiger, according to Spaulding, went to live with Scull in his nursing home. One of them died soon after, and the other was taken in by a neighbor.
Despite Spaulding's assertion that the county was acting in Scull's behalf, Greene's court appointed attorney, Ann Dennis, said none of the actions should have taken place.
"This is not supposed to happen to anybody," she said. "They got processed like two chickens at a processing plant. Their [the county's] rationale doesn't make sense. There was nothing to protect either of these two men."
The National Center for Lesbian Rights is assisting Dennis in the case.