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Jeb Bush, Schiavos win in appeals court; supporters encouraged

TAMPA, Fla. (BP)-Gov. Jeb Bush and Terri Schiavo’s parents won a reprieve Feb. 13 when an appellate court ruled twice in their favor on two separate legal issues regarding the ongoing case of the 40-year-old brain-damaged woman at the center of a national “right-to-die” debate.

Florida’s 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled that the order by Pinellas Circuit Court Judge W. Douglas Baird barring Bush’s attorney from deposing seven witnesses is not legal. The appellate court said Michael Schiavo “failed to demonstrate good cause for a blanket ban on the taking of depositions” and “may cause harm to the governor that will not be remediable on appeal from a final judgment.”

The ruling granted Bush’s petition and quashed a protective order entered by the circuit court, saying the circuit court entered the protective order without first resolving the arguments.

The appeals court also ruled that Judge Baird did not follow established rules when he denied a request that Robert and Mary Schindler be allowed to participate in the ongoing litigation between the governor and Michael Schiavo. The decision reversed the lower court’s ruling and sent the case back to Judge Baird “for further proceedings.”

Michael Schiavo, Terri’s husband and legal guardian, has been in a bitter dispute with Terri’s parents who believe she never received the therapy that would have allowed her to improve. Terri, who collapsed under unusual circumstances in 1990, has twice had her feeding tube removed and been left to die, at her husband’s request – last fall and once during the mid-1990s.

In the most recent instance, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush ordered the feeding tube reinserted Oct. 21 after the Florida legislature in October passed a law narrowly crafted to save Terri Schiavo’s life.

Michael Schiavo, who has two children by a woman with whom he has lived for eight years, has since filed a lawsuit against Bush, challenging his intervention.

Bush’s attorney had sought to take depositions from witnesses, including Michael Schiavo and his girlfriend, relating to Terri Schiavo’s medical care and her end-of-life wishes.

The outcome of that action is pending while Judge Baird awaited the dissolution of these two motions and one other related to the case. The case is expected to end up before the Florida Supreme Court.

The Miami Herald reported that Bush said in a statement he is pleased with the rulings and believes the one to allow depositions “will provide us the opportunity to present questions we believe are still open in this case.”

“We are hopeful that when the judge hears these questions, he will allow us the opportunity to gather the facts necessary to defend the constitutionality of the statute,” Bush said.

The Schindlers’ attorney, Pat Anderson, told the Florida Baptist Witness she was “speechless” after learning of the court’s ruling.

“It’s the first time in the three years that I’ve worked on the case that just plain ordinary law has been applied to the facts,” Anderson said. “These orders are not controversial, they are not a stretch — they are plain, ordinary, garden-variety law.”

The American Center for Law and Justice, the firm which filed the motion to intervene on behalf of the Schindlers, told the Florida Baptist Witness it is pleased with the court’s decision.

“The decision by the appeals court is encouraging and opens the door for Terri’s parents to intervene directly in this critical case,” said Jay Sekulow, ACLJ chief counsel. “This decision gives us one more opportunity to do what should have been done from the very start — permit Terri’s parents to take a direct and active role in defending the state law that is the only thing keeping their daughter alive.

“While we believe that ‘Terri’s Law’ ultimately will be upheld as constitutional, it is our focus now to ensure that Terri’s parents be permitted to be directly involved in a case that ultimately will decide the fate of their daughter,” Sekulow continued.

The Schindlers said the news, on the eve of Valentine’s Day, has left them “encouraged” that the “true facts” in Terri’s case will be revealed.

“The bottom line is hopefully the truth will come out through the discovery process, and that’s what we’ve been looking for,” Bob Schindler told the Florida Baptist Witness, referring to the appellate court’s decision to quash the order preventing the governor’s attorneys from deposing witnesses.

The Schindlers plan to visit Terri on Valentine’s Day at the Clearwater nursing home where she resides, bringing her red balloons with hearts and a small stuffed dog with a heart-shaped tag that reads “I love you.”

“Terri likes balloons because they are bright and she follows them around the room,” Mary Schindler said.

Bob Schindler, who said the family celebrates all of the holidays with Terri, said their family has just returned from a short trip to Pennsylvania and will bring Terri news of her former community.

“We will tell her about all the people supporting her,” Bob Schindler said. “We will talk to her about her old friends, update her on all the new babies and that kind of stuff.”

As in past interviews, Bob Schindler said he remains concerned about Terri’s isolation. She is not allowed to leave her room or even be in a position to see the hordes of well-wishers who show up outside her window.

“Unless she gets some kind of stimulation, there will be no improvement,” he said.

Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of Florida Baptist Witness. For more coverage on Terri Schiavo, go to www.FloridaBaptistWitness.com and look at the special report “Terri Schiavo: A Life at Stake.”

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  • Joni B. Hannigan