Ryan Burns / @ 11:06 a.m. / Courts, Government

State Supreme Court Refuses to Depublish Scathing Ruling Against County in Adult Protective Services Case


The California Supreme Court has denied a county request to depublish a recent appellate court decision that reads as a blistering indictment of county employees in both the Adult Protective Services department and County Counsel’s office.

The background on this case was laid out two weeks ago in an excellent North Coast Journal cover story by Kim Wear. It involves the final months in the life of Dick Magney, a man who had signed an advance directive giving his wife Judy the power to make health care decisions on his behalf. 

As Magney’s health deteriorated, that power was taken away from his wife and granted, temporarily, to Humboldt County Adult Protective Services, which had applied for conservatorship on the grounds of caretaker abuse or neglect.

What ensued was effectively a custody dispute. Magney’s wife, Judy, and his primary care physician wanted him to receive only palliative care to ease the suffering caused by his terminal health problems, per his express wishes as outlined in his advance care directive. But Deputy County Counsel Blair Angus petitioned the court to force treatment on Magney, arguing that it was unclear whether Judy Magney was following her husband’s wishes. 

A judge ordered a temporary order for medical intervention, but an appellate court judge later overturned that decision with a ruling that lambasted the county for “knowingly misleading a judicial tribunal.”

The judge found that, in arguing for conservatorship, the county omitted relevant information, misrepresented the law and facts of the case and made factual assertions based on “multiple levels of hearsay” and “unsupported by any evidence.”

From the opinion:

We cannot subscribe to a scenario where a governmental agency acts to overturn the provisions of a valid advance directive by presenting the court with an incomplete discussion of the relevant law and a misleading compendium of incompetent and inadmissible evidence and, worse, by withholding critical evidence about the clinical assessments and opinions of the primary physician because that evidence does not accord with the agency‘s own agenda. No reasonable person, let alone a governmental agency, would have pursued such a course.

It’s a stinging rebuke of the county’s behavior, so it’s understandable — if galling — that the county petitioned the state Supreme Court to have the ruling depublished. Yesterday the court denied that request, meaning the ruling will remain on the record where it can be cited as case law in future disputes.

Asked for comment earlier this month, the county sent the Outpost the same statement it sent to the Journal

This was a difficult case for all involved, with no easy answers and no winners. While we respectfully disagree with the court’s findings, we do not intend to re-argue the case in the court of public opinion. Due to privacy laws and regulations, we are unable to comment further.

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