SACRAMENTO, CA- California’s Supreme Court affirmation
of an appellate court’s publicized and blistering indictment of Humboldt County
will remain on the record, to be used in subsequent case law. On January26, the
State’s highest court upheld the findings of Humboldt’s Superior Court in Humboldt County
Adult Protective Services v Judith Magney, in which the county court found that the local Adult Protective
Services (APS) agency had submitted unverified evidence, relied on hearsay,
defied appellate court rules, and withheld information from the court in
regards to a suit filed on the advance life directive of Dick Magney who died
in October 2015.
Jeffrey Blanck, Humboldt’s county counsel, was
involved in the case and strongly disagreed with that assessment when talking
with the Northern California Record.
“When you read the Court of Appeal opinion, it gives
the impression that we’re out there hunting for these [situations].” Blanck
stated that the APS only got involved after it received a report of possible neglect
from a doctor at Magney’s hospital.
According to its website, APS
is staffed with “social workers, public health nurses, mental health
clinicians, and vocational assistants” who look to protect senior citizens from
abuse and neglect.
Four years before his death, realizing he was sick,
Mr. Magney and his wife, Judith, conferred with doctors in drawing up his
wishes for end time care. He assigned the role of carrying out his plans to his
wife, with his sister acting as an alternate.
February 2015, Magney was admitted to a hospital in Eureka in a condition described,
in a copy of Humboldt County’s request for depublication obtained by the Record, as being close to death and
showing signs of neglect. A case analysis determined that it appeared Magney
had been left in a bathroom for six to eight weeks before being admitted to the
Blanck stated that since the day of admittance was a
Friday, the County moved quickly to restore medical treatment for a heart
infection that Magney is reported to have agreed to.
The County’s actions, according to Blanck, did not
violate the directive and were designed to make Magney comfortable in the end,
as he had asked to be.
“We weren’t requesting surgery or cutting off an arm.
It was simply ‘You need antibiotics to treat a condition that was painful.’”
The County filing states that on the following day,
Magney’s condition improved and while he deferred hospice care, he did ask for ‘medical
management’. The County alleges that during this time, Ms. Magney continued to advocate
for obedience to the orders of the directive.
After being contacted by a doctor honoring the
mandatory reporting law, APS dispatched nurse Heather Ringwald, who interviewed Mr. Magney and reportedly found him confused and
neglected. Ringwald disagreed with the medical staff’s prognosis and broached
the subject of Ms. Magney’s purportedly inadequate home care for her husband.
After several weeks of antibiotic treatment, a new
doctor began caring for Magney. After conferring with the couple, the doctor
agreed to implement the directive. The County contends that at that point in
time, Mr. Magney’s mental condition was highly questionable. Humboldt APS subsequently
filed for conservatorship, removing Ms. Magney as health agent.
The incident went before a trial court, which sided
with the County but found that Ringwald had failed to disclose a conversation
with Magney’s final doctor who followed the directive. The judge ordered the mandatory
commencement of life-sustaining medical treatment, but the decision was overturned
on appeal by Ms. Magney. The appellate court not only changed the ruling but
lambasted Humboldt County and its’ attorneys as well.
In the ruling, the
appellate court stated: “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.”
Blanck told the Record
that the appellate court took unusual umbrage at not being informed about the
opinion of Mr. Magney’s third and final doctor.
“We referenced the two previous doctors and Mr. Magney’s
statements that he wanted continued treatment. The appellate court said ‘Ah,
you didn’t tell us about the last doctor’. But then you have dueling doctors
anyway; one is saying yes and one is saying no” so that lack of reference would
have been moot claimed Blanck.
While the public chastising of APS and Deputy County
Counsel Blair Angus, who had pushed for the conservatorship over Magney, is a
rather rare action
by a court, the level of court alleged transgressions apparently motivated the
decision to publish the findings.
Humboldt County petitioned the State Supreme Court to
depublish the findings because, according to Blanck, the appellate court
dismissed the evidence of neglect, the medical records and APS investigation
notes. The request was denied because, the court said, the county lacked a
reasonable cause for the request.
Judy Thomas, CEO of Coalition for Compassionate Care, was
asked what issue was at the root for such legal fighting.
“We do have a literacy issue in society,” replied
Thomas. “People don’t know what the aging process looks like through the very
end of any serious illness or chronic condition all the way to active dying.”
This lack of awareness has physical ramifications to
it that tend to be counter-productive if misdiagnosed. Thomas said that once dying
actively and irreversibly begins, sustaining treatment can cause undo suffering
while it tries to fight a natural process.
people will still have advance directives and not be scared off by this,” said