California County, Others To Pay More Than $650,000 In Same-Sex Elder Abuse Case

Late last week, representatives of Sonoma County, California agreed to settle a lawsuit filed on behalf Clay Greene and the estate of Harold Scull, Greene’s deceased partner of 20 years.  According to the suit, Greene and Scull had each executed mutual powers of attorney for medical and financial decisions and wills naming each other as beneficiaries. In April 2008, County employees in the Public Guardian’s office separated the couple after Scull fell outside their shared home. In the next three months, County officials ignored the couple’s legal documentation, unlawfully auctioned their possessions, terminated their lease, and forced Greene into an assisted living facility against his will. The County did not consult Greene in Scull’s medical care and prevented the two from seeing one another.

In August, 2008, before the partners could be reunited, Scull passed away after completing a photo album of the couple’s life for Greene.

In August, 2009, Greene and the representative of Scull’s estate filed a lawsuit against County officials and others alleging elder abuse, elder financial abuse, breach of fiduciary duty, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, and other claims.  The plaintiffs were represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR).

Under the terms of the settlement, Sonoma County will pay $600,000 to the plaintiffs, with a smaller payment of $53,000 coming from the remaining defendants.  In addition, as a result of the lawsuit, Sonoma County has changed or modified a number of important policies in its Public Guardian’s Office, including requiring County employees to follow protocols before seizing private property, preventing County employees from relocating elders or others against their will, and prohibiting County employees from backdating information in their guardianship database.

NCLR is to be commended for taking on this most egregious case and seeing it through to a favorable conclusion for the plaintiffs.  As a resident of Sonoma County, on a personal and professional level, I am deeply disturbed that it took a lawsuit to cajole the County into “modifying” policies requiring its employees to “follow protocols before seizing private property” of its residents, “relocating elders against their will,” and “prohibiting County employees from backdating information.”  It should not be necessary for anyone – regardless of sexual orientation – to resort to court action to prevent such abuses.  The monetary settlement notwithstanding, what this couple lost cannot be replaced by any court.

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Senators Pryor, Kerry Propose Equal Internet Access For Disabled

On May 5, 2010, Senators Mark Pryor (AR) and John Kerry (MA) introduced the “Equal Access to 21st Century Communications Act” (S. 3304).  Senators Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad, both from North Dakota, also co-sponsored the bill.

Hailed by equal access advocates as a major step forward for people with disabilities in ensuring accessible technology, the bill would modernize accessibility mandates in the Communications Act, bringing existing requirements up to date as television and phone services connect via the Internet and use new digital and broadband technologies.

Eric Bridges, Director of Advocacy & Government Affairs at the American Council of the Blind (ACB) said, “Much of S. 3304 would lead to greater accessibility for people with disabilities, such as more accessible video programming, including captioning and video description, regardless of distribution mode; and video programming equipment, such as televisions and other display devices, would also be accessible.”

However, some advocates have argued the Senate bill does not go as far as its companion measure in the House of Representatives – the “Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act” (H.R. 3101) – in reaching all the new technologies.  In particular, the National Association of the Deaf has been critical that the Senate bill is not as broad or well-defined as the House version.

Jenifer Simpson, Senior Director of Government Affairs at the American Association of People With Disabilities (AAPD) said, “We are confident that these issues – scope of accessible communications and the standard for compliance – will be resolved.”

A copy of a press released just issued by COAT – the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology – is in the Box.  COAT has been active in getting the Senate bill introduced.

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