Settlement Next Step in Magney End-of-Life Care Case

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Dick and Judy Magney around the time they met in 1992 - PHOTO COURTESY OF JUDY MAGNEY
  • Photo courtesy of Judy Magney
  • Dick and Judy Magney around the time they met in 1992
A scathing appellate ruling that found officials with the county of Humboldt overstepped their bounds and misrepresented evidence to the court when they interfered in a Carlotta couple’s end-of-life medical decisions became final yesterday.

That sets the stage for attorney Allison Jackson, who represented Dick and Judy Magney in the case, to begin settlement talks — a process that she said will start with a letter being sent to the board of supervisors this week “in order for them to understand the gravity and significance of this decision.”

Almost exactly two years have passed since Adult Protective Services began a March 2015 investigation into never pursued or substantiated reports of possible caretaker neglect after Dick Magney — then 73 and in failing health — was admitted to the hospital.

Over the course of the next few months, Dick and Judy Magney would find themselves in an ongoing court battle, fighting attempts by both APS and the Public Guardian’s Office — through the county counsel’s office — to override Dick Magney's advanced care directive, which specifically stated he did not want his life prolonged by non-beneficial treatment.

The First District Court of Appeal ruled in October  that the county’s efforts to wrestle temporary control over Dick Magney's treatment away from his wife were “profoundly disturbing.”

"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," the opinion states.

The appellate court panel also found that Blair Angus — the county's deputy counsel who handled the case and appears to be up for a Humboldt County judgeship — seemed to have the view "that if Humboldt needed to be duplicitous to get an order compelling treatment, so be it."

In previous responses to developments in the Magney case, county spokesperson Sean Quincey has released the same statement: "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."

Jackson said her hope is that the supervisors will choose to bring closure to the case and that they will “do it right,” which includes looking at the structure of the county’s departments.

“They need to deal with the travesty of what happened in a mindful and compassionate manner and take into consideration the egregious conduct of county staff,” she said, listing APS, the Public Guardian’s Office and the office of the county counsel, “in order for Mrs. Magney to move forward and in order for the public to be assured that this will not happen again, which has always been Mrs. Magney’s concern.”

In addition to taking the county to task for its conduct in the decision — which County Counsel Jeffrey Blanck unsuccessfully petitioned the California Supreme Court to depublish — the appellate court panel also awarded Judy Magney attorney’s fees.

Dick Magney died in October of 2015, one month past his 74th birthday, having lived long enough to see the courts ultimately deny the county’s attempts to take control over his medical decisions.

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