Ryan Burns / @ 4:26 p.m. / Courts

In Response to $1.44 Million Claim in Adult Protective Services Case, County Counter-Offers Less than $2,500


PREVIOUSLY

The county’s fight over the treatment of a terminally ill man may be close to a resolution in court, but the parties involved are still bitterly divided.

Today, Humboldt County Counsel Jeffrey Blanck filed the county’s response to a $1.44 million claim made earlier this week in the case of Humboldt County Adult Protective Services v. Judith Magney. In a nine-page filing the county argues that Magney’s attorney, Allison Jackson of Eureka’s Harland Law Firm, failed to provide adequate documentation for her fees. The response ignores the portion of Jackson’s claim seeking more than $1.15 million in punitive damages, concluding with an offer to pay just $2,452 — roughly 0.17 percent of the amount Jackson’s seeking.

The original case revolved around the health care provided to a terminally ill man named Dick Magney. When Magney was admitted to St. Joseph Hospital in February of 2015 he was in bad shape — emaciated and malnourished with deep ulcers and a serious bacterial infection.

Humboldt County’s Adult Protective Services was called in and, after concluding that Magney may have been neglected and abused by his wife, Deputy County Counsel Blair Angus petitioned Humboldt County Superior Court, asking a judge to grant the county conservatorship of Dick Magney.

The judge sided with the county, issuing a temporary order for medical intervention, effectively seizing control of Dick Magney’s health care from his wife, Judith.

But Judith Magney fought back. She hired Jackson to represent her, and the county soon withdrew its petition. The court battle that ensued — and that continues to this day, roughly a year and a half after Dick Magney’s death — has centered on whether or not the county was justified in pursuing conservatorship over Mr. Magney, and whether it did so in an appropriate and honest manner.

Dick Magney had signed an advance health care directive, explicitly giving his wife the power to make medical decisions when he became unable to do so himself. And by the time the county was granted conservatorship, in March 2015, both Dick and Judith Magney had decided that he should receive only palliative care — that is, they wanted him to be made as comfortable as possible but not to undergo surgery or other invasive procedures. His treating physician at St. Joseph Hospital agreed with that decision, saying further treatment would be futile as he was not likely to recover from his underlying conditions.

Last October, a three-judge panel of the First District Court of Appeals in San Francisco held the county responsible for Judith Magney’s attorney’s fees with a ruling that fiercely castigated county staff in both the Adult Protective Services branch and the County Counsel’s office. The judges found that county staff had deliberately misled the court by omitting relevant information and misrepresenting both the law and the facts of the case.

While the legal skirmish is now limited to dollars and cents, the parties are still arguing over the very personal and troubling details of Mr. Magney’s final months of life. In her claim, Jackson accuses the county of affixing some “cherry-picked” medical records to unsealed court filings, thereby making them available to the public. She calls this a “flagrant violation of Mr. Magney’s right to privacy” and reasons that this was one of several ways in which the county violated the Magneys’ civil rights.

Early in the court battle, the county considered filing these medical records as exhibits, hoping they might help to justify Adult Protective Service’s intervention into Mr. Magney’s health care. The records describe in detail his “profoundly debilitated” condition, and they include notes from doctors at St. Joseph Hospital indicating that Judith Magney said her husband had been living in the bathroom for eight weeks before being admitted to the hospital, even taking his meals on the commode. The notes also suggest that there were times with Dick and Judith Magney were not in agreement about his health care decisions.

In an interview with the Outpost, Blanck said the county ultimately decided against submitting those medical files as evidence, and he insisted that Jackson is the one who inadvertently made the records public by filing them with the appellate court. 

Jackson flatly denied that, and she forwarded the Outpost a copy of a pre-hearing filing from the county, dated April 7, 2015, and signed by Deputy County Counsel Blair Angus, that included the medical records in question. She said other records and testimony contradicted the information from those “cherry-picked” records.

This mutual finger-pointing may or may not impact the dollar amount awarded in the case. Blanck said the county hired outside counsel to deal with the claim since it names him personally as liable, among several other county employees. But the opposition response filed today was signed by Blanck himself. It argues that Jackson failed to provide detailed time records or justify her hourly rate, among other problems. The county agrees only to pay $606.90 for Jackson’s trial court costs and another $1845.31 for her costs on appeal for a total of $2,452.21.

Reached this afternoon, Jackson declined to comment on the county’s response because she had yet to receive a copy, she said.


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