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Schiavo guardianship issue stretches on in Fla. courts

CLEARWATER, Fla. (BP)–In a flurry of petitions, motions and court actions, a state circuit judge Nov. 5 rejected an effort to block the removal of Terri Schiavo’s husband as guardian, leaving the door open for either her brother or sister to take responsibility for her.

Also on Nov. 5, another judge heard arguments from an attorney for Gov. Jeb Bush to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Michael Schiavo challenging the constitutionality of the law that allowed the governor to order her feeding and hydration tube re-inserted Oct. 21.

The action concerning the governor argues he was never served with the suit and that it should have been filed in Leon County instead of Pinellas County.

A memorandum in the petition notes, “The Governor recognizes that the Court is under tremendous pressure to make a rapid determination of the issues,” but, “this pressure should not be allowed to create a rush to judgment on the Court’s part, especially on issues of life and death as are now before the court.”

Michael Schiavo’s attorney, George Felos, told the Associated Press he believes the motion is a “legal move out of the gutter” and a “low-ball delaying tactic.”

Terri Schiavo is the 39-year-old brain-damaged Clearwater, Fla., woman at the center of a national debate which has brought to the forefront moral and legal arguments concerning her quality of life and her so called “right to die.”

On Oct. 15, the feeding tube which has sustained her life since a 1990 unexplained heart failure left her brain-damaged was removed on court orders. Bush signed an executive order into law Oct. 21 providing for the immediate rehydration and nourishment of Terri Schiavo after both chambers of the state legislature scrambled for nearly two days to pass a bill giving Bush the authority to intervene.

Michael Schiavo, Terri’s husband, and her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, have been at odds for 10 years. He says his brain-damaged wife would not want to live. The Schindlers say their daughter has never had the care and rehabilitation she needs in order to improve.

The Schindlers had filed three other separate petitions asking for the removal of Michael Schiavo as guardian, citing his inability to follow established state laws for care of a disabled person and a “conflict of interest” due to his well-established relationship with a woman he has lived with for eight years and with whom he has two children — among other allegations of impropriety involving the mishandling of Terri’s medical trust fund.

In the court action Nov. 5, Circuit Court Judge George W. Greer said he would allow a petition filed on Nov. 15, 2002, to proceed. The petition asks that Robert Schindler Jr. (“Bobby”) or Suzanne Schindler Carr be appointed as guardian.

Pat Anderson, the Schindlers’ attorney, told the AP she was pleased with the judge’s ruling.

“It’s very important because the fact of the matter is, Michael should not be her guardian,” Anderson told AP. “He has a gross, gross conflict of interest.”

Attorneys for Michael Schiavo, who had argued for dismissal on his behalf, told AP the ruling was “unfortunate.”

In the court action relating to Bush, Tampa attorney Kenneth L. Connor, who was formerly president of the Family Research Council, one of the nation’s leading pro-family organizations, said the governor was not trying to sidestep the question of the constitutionality of Terri’s Law, but was instead following procedure.

“The governor has the right to a home venue privilege,” Connor told AP. “As you can imagine, this is not the only lawsuit brought against the governor, so if you wind up forcing the governor and the staff to trot all over the state, that winds up being an extraordinary consumption of state resources.”

In other court action, a motion filed by the American Center for Law & Justice, an international public interest law firm specializing in constitutional law, on behalf of Terri Schiavo’s parents was rejected Nov. 4 by Pinellas County Circuit Court Judge W. Douglas Baird.

The Oct. 30 motion asked for attorneys for Robert and Mary Schindler to intervene in the lawsuit brought by Michael Schiavo and supported by the American Civil Liberties Union challenging the constitutionality of the action by the governor and the Florida legislature.

“We’re very disappointed with the court’s ruling,” Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ told the Florida Baptist Witness newsjournal. “It is clear that state law permits the parents to get directly involved in a case to defend a state law that is keeping their daughter alive.”

In the judge’s ruling, he said the Schindlers do not have “a sufficient legal interest” in the case but they could file an amicus curiae friend-of-the-court brief Nov. 6 developing their legal arguments.

The ACLJ, on behalf of the Schindlers, filed a friend-of-the-court brief Nov. 6 but also filed a motion for hearing asking Judge Baird to reconsider his earlier decision and asserting the Schindlers do have “sufficient legal interest” to be directly involved.

“It is the life of their daughter that is at stake in these proceedings,” Sekulow said. “The courts have acted as they were the only government entity to be concerned about the outcome of Terri’s case.

“The fact is that Florida law and constitution are clear: The legislature is the policy-making body and has the authority to set and review standards — including standards dealing with the protection of human life,” Sekulow continued. “The state and governor had a clear, compelling and constitutional interest in passing and implementing ‘Terri’s Law.’ We’re hopeful the court will uphold that action.”
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, online at www.FloridaBaptistWitness.com.

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