After squaring off against the county of Humboldt in court to defend a Carlotta man's right to die on his own terms, Eureka attorney Allison Jackson is turning to the Board of Supervisors to bring closure to the case.
Jackson successfully contested maneuvers by Adult Protective Services and the Public Guardian's Office to override Dick Magney's legally binding advance directive in order to force him to undergo medical treatment ("Profoundly Disturbing," Jan. 12).
With the California Supreme Court's Jan. 25 decision to reject County Counsel Jeffrey Blanck's bid to have a scathing appellate opinion about his office's conduct in the Magney case depublished, the matter is now headed to settlement talks.
Jackson said she is "hopeful and guardedly optimistic" that supervisors will step in and direct Blanck to find a fair resolution with Dick Magney's wife, Judy, who challenged the county's intrusion into his care.
"That means the county needs to acknowledge what happened, settle with Mrs. Magney and take a look and make structural changes ... to its legal office and have some discussion about what occurred with Adult Protective Services so this doesn't happen again," Jackson said.
While the county was able to temporarily seize control away from the Magneys through the Humboldt County Superior Court, the appellate panel found that was only accomplished by county counsel's office misleading the court using an "appallingly inadequate" request with "glaringly incompetent and inadmissible evidence" and "multiple levels of hearsay."
"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.
"No reasonable person, let alone a governmental agency, would have pursued such a course."
The panel of three appellate court justices also found that Blair Angus — the county's deputy counsel who handled the Magneys' case and appears to be in the running 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."
Dick Magney's advance directive had specified that he did not want invasive treatment to prolong his life and he had outlined a plan for palliative care with his doctor that was briefly reversed when the county initiated the legal saga that spanned several months in 2015.
With the state Supreme Court declining to step in, the opinion continues to stand as case law in California and the county is responsible for the attorney fees that Judy Magney incurred while staving off the county's intervention.
If an agreement is not reached between Blanck and Jackson, the case will be sent back to Superior Court Judge Dale Reinholtsen, who initially denied Judy Magney's request for attorney's fees.
County spokesman Sean Quincey referred the Journal back to the statement he released for the story "Profoundly Disturbing" (Jan. 12) in the wake of the appellate court decision.
"This was a difficult case for all involved, with no easy answers and no winners," he said at the time. "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."
A World War II movie buff who enjoyed fast cars and tinkering with wood stoves, Dick Magney died in October of 2015 at the age of 74 due to a series of long-standing health ailments.
While he lived long enough to see the county's attempts to overturn his advanced health care directive fail, the former truck driver's last months were shrouded in the uncertainty of the ongoing case, which included the county counsel's office's escalating and unsubstantiated accusations of neglect against his wife.
Jackson said Judy Magney's main concern is making sure no one else endures the same treatment.
"There is no way to compensate Mrs. Magney for what happened to her in this horrifying process," Jackson said. "Nothing. She is the kindest woman. ... This is to make sure she isn't financially devastated from their actions and that this doesn't happen again."
David Levine, a professor at UC Hastings College of the Law, said he could see no basis for requesting depublication of the decision other than the county trying to minimize the embarrassment stemming from the strong appellate rebuke.
In fact, Levine said he found the ruling to be extremely helpful in laying out what steps should be taken — and who is authorized to take them — in a scenario where an advance directive is being challenged.
The law professor described Angus' conduct in the case as "disturbing" and said the case should receive "substantial attention" during any vetting process for a judgeship.
That being said, the appellate court could have been harsher, according to Levine. He noted that the panel didn't continuously reference Angus by name in the opinion, often referring to her as "Humboldt."
"They could have been even more unkind, in other words, and they could have referred it to the (state) bar," Levine said, stating when he saw that happen once when he clerked for an appellate court.
That, Levine said, would have sent a clear signal from the court to the state bar — which, among other duties, investigates allegations of attorney misconduct — that says "pay attention" to what happened here.
State Bar of California spokesperson Laura Ernde said inquiries into attorney conduct are confidential but disciplinary charges are public record and are posted to individual profile page on the bar website. At the time the Journal went press, the page indicated Angus had no record of discipline or administrative action.
Jackson said she appreciates that the Supreme Court acted so quickly, paving the way for the case to draw to a close, but more importantly she hopes there will be real structural changes at the county "to make sure this never happens again."
"The county counsel's office continues the course of not acknowledging this was wrong," Jackson said. "It's just very troubling, especially after receiving such a clear message in that unanimous decision from the appellate court and now from the supreme court declining to depublish it, so it will remain precedent for any court to use and any other county counsel's office to use."
Kimberly Wear is the assistant editor and staff writer for the Journal. Reach her at 442-1400, extension 323, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @kimberly_wear.