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Settlement reached in gravesite battle

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View Original Washington Blade article and photos of this young gay couple HERE

Settlement reached in gravesite battle

Body of Baltimore man?s partner won?t be moved

JOSHUA LYNSEN

Friday, August 17, 2007

A gay Baltimore man has won a legal battle to keep his late partner?s remains buried in the Tennessee grave the two men chose.

Kevin-Douglas Olive reached a settlement Aug. 10 with the parents of his late partner, Russell Groff, who sought to move the body to a family plot. The settlement ended a legal battle that lasted two years.

?It?s been pretty traumatic,? Olive said. ?I?m just ready to put it all behind me and see what comes next.?

The settlement, which ends all attempts by Lowell and Carolyn Groff to overturn their son?s will, stipulates that a large gravestone intended to also accommodated Olive be replaced by separate headstones at each grave.

Olive said he?d hoped to avoid replacing the gravestone, but was willing to make that concession to end the case.

?If they will leave me alone and let this case go,? he said, ?I will get that headstone changed.?

Lowell and Carolyn Groff, who had sought to move Russell?s body to a family cemetery, argued in court that their 26-year-old son didn?t know what he was doing when he completed his will and burial instructions shortly before his death on Nov. 23, 2004.

Russell, who was HIV-positive, died from a staph infection that spread throughout his body.

Olive, 35, said Russell was estranged from his parents at the time of his death and completed a will and burial instructions in anticipation of the legal battle.

In a brief interview this week, Carolyn Groff told the Blade that she and Lowell ?continue to love? Russell, and that Olive ?is using everything that he can, everyone that he can, to further the homosexual agenda.?

Carolyn, who lives in Seymour, Tenn., declined to discuss the settlement ?because of future ramifications,? but did not elaborate.

In accordance with the settlement, Mark Scurti, a gay Baltimore attorney who represented Olive, said his client also must give to Lowell and Carolyn about two dozen of Russell?s personal items.

?Things such as a karate black belt and a fishing tackle-box that his father had given him,? Scurti said. ?More sentimental items than materialistic.?

He said the settlement does not stop Olive from being buried alongside Russell, and makes clear that Russell will remain buried outside Knoxville, Tenn.

?That was a non-negotiable issue for us,? Scurti said. ?We made sure that the only thing that?s going to change is the tombstone.?

Although the settlement yielded what Scurti called ?a good result? for Olive, he noted the case held a lesson for gay Marylanders.

?Make sure that your affairs are in order early,? he said. ?Don?t wait until your partner is ill or something catastrophic happens.?

Olive agreed. He said that he and Russell erred by waiting until Russell was in the hospital to formalize their legal protections.

?There are so many gay couples running around with no legal documents written up whatsoever,? Olive said. ?It?s stupid. Just stupid. It was stupid on our part.?

He said gay Marylanders ? unable to acquire the legal protections that marriage or civil unions would afford ? must guard themselves through other means.

?Get your legal documents in order now, not next week,? Olive said. ?Call an attorney. And make sure it?s an attorney who does it, not some form you?ve gotten online. Spend the money now, because if you don?t spend the money now, you might spend a whole lot more later. A whole lot more.?

Scurti said legal costs for the case, charged at about one-third his usual rate, were more than $5,000. He noted those costs would have doubled had the case gone to trial.

Olive, who sold his car to help fund the case, received assistance and donations from people across the nation and as far away as Belgium.

?For people I don?t even know to say, ?Here?s $20,?? he said, ?it?s been really touching.?

Olive said after the case?s bills and loans have been paid, all remaining funds will be given to an undetermined gay civil rights organization.

He noted that Equality Maryland, which is seeking marriage equality in the state for same-sex couples, might be the recipient. Olive said he strongly supports that effort.

?It?s more than just inheritance,? he said. ?It will change things. It will change the disrespect that same-gender couples get all the time when we describe ourselves as same-gender couples.?

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