News Articles

Sekulow seeks to join parents in Terri Schiavo court battle

CLEARWATER, Fla. (BP)–Asking to intervene in a lawsuit expected to go before the Florida Supreme Court, the American Center for Law and Justice filed a motion Oct. 30 to intervene on behalf of the parents of Terri Schiavo, a 39-year-old brain-damaged woman at the center of a national debate.

Michael Schiavo, Terri Schiavo’s husband and legal guardian, filed a 44-page legal brief Oct. 29 attacking “Terri’s Law” as passed by the Florida legislature and asking the Circuit Court for Pinellas County to overturn it as unconstitutional. At issue is legislation enabling Gov. Jeb Bush to order the re-insertion of Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube after it had been removed by a court order won by her husband.

ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow, in a statement to the Florida Baptist Witness, defended the action taken by Florida lawmakers.

“It is clear the governor has the constitutional authority to act to save the life of someone on death row,” Sekulow said. “This case is no different.

“What the legislature and the governor did is not only appropriate, but legally sound and constitutional as well. We are hopeful that the court will permit Terri’s parents to enter this case and we look forward to working with the Governor’s office and the state attorney general to defend the life-saving actions of the state in court.”

Terri’s Law was passed by the legislature Oct. 21 and signed into law by Gov. Bush that day.

Schiavo’s feeding tube had been removed Oct. 15 — against her parent’s wishes — by a judge’s order backing Michael Schiavo’s request for its removal.

The ACLJ, an international public interest law firm that specializes in constitutional law, is seeking to represent Robert and Mary Schindler in just one aspect of Schiavo v. Bush — the legal challenge to the constitutionality of the actions of Gov. Bush and the state legislature. Pat Anderson, a St. Petersburg, Fla., attorney, continues to represent Terri Schiavo’s parents in all other aspects of the case.

“This is a very important case involving the state’s ability to act to protect human life,” Sekulow told the Witness. “We believe the lawsuit is legally flawed and that both the legislature and the governor are well within their constitutional authority to take actions to save the life of Terri Schindler Schiavo. We are asking the court to permit the parents to intervene on this legal challenge and we’re hopeful the court will agree.”

The American Civil Liberties Union joined the court case Oct. 29 with Michael Schiavo’s attorney, George Felos. Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, said in a statement: “Based on the precedent of this case, meddling politicians could set aside court orders they don’t agree with and veto any decision made by a patient or family members.”

Michael Schiavo has refused to let Terri’s parents have any say in her care or treatment for nearly a decade, after they had a falling out in 1994. According to court documents, it wasn’t until after he won a $1.2 million malpractice suit in 1993 that he testified that he remembered Terri saying she would not want to live in her condition.

Terri Schiavo did not leave any kind of written instruction or an advance directive, known as a “living will,” indicating her wishes if she were incapacitated, but the courts have commonly deferred to the family’s wishes in such cases. For legal purposes, the spouse is typically first in line to issue instructions if the person is married, followed by any children and finally, the parents of the patient.

In the petition filed Oct. 29, Michael Schiavo claimed Terri’s Law is “unconstitutionally vague,” requiring “that men of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning and differ as to its application.” On that basis, he asked the court for a permanent injunction to remove the feeding tube by which Terri receives nutrition and hydration.

Separate petitions on the issue of who should represent Terri Schiavo in legal proceedings also were filed Oct. 29 by lawyers representing Michael Schiavo and Terri Schiavo’s parents, the Schindlers.

Gov. Bush’s Oct. 21 executive order called for a “guardian ad litem” to be appointed by the court. Pinellas Circuit Court Judge W. Douglas Baird Oct. 22 said he would appoint Jay Wolfson, both a medical doctor and a lawyer, and professor of health and law at Stetson University, to the role if an agreement could not be worked out between Michael Schiavo and the Schindlers. Wolfson also is affiliated with the College of Public Health at Florida State University and the College of Medicine at the University of South Florida.

On Oct. 24, Anderson, the Schindlers’ attorney, filed a petition on behalf of the parents which questioned Wolfson’s fitness for the appointment after he “demonstrated bias” toward Michael Schiavo by appearing on a news show that aired on WFTS, the local ABC affiliate, Oct. 22. Anderson said the Schindlers believe Wolfson expressed opposition to Terri’s Law during the interview.

The Oct. 29 petition Anderson filed repeats the Schindlers’ objection to Wolfson as guardian ad litem, proposing instead Mary Ann Quartetti, a local professional guardian, or any other guardian “who takes no stand on the advisability of ‘Terri’s Law,'” is “willing to act as an advocate” and is already known to the court.

Deborah Bushnell, another of Michael Schiavo’s attorneys, handling the guardianship matter, asked in the Oct. 29 petition that the court “reconsider” its Oct. 22 order requiring the appointment of a guardian ad litem until such a time as the “constitutionality” of Terri’s Law is determined.

The petition filed by Felos warns “each day that the ward receives nutrition and hydration is a violation of, not only her expressed wishes, but her constitutional rights under the laws of the state of Florida and the United States.”

The petition filed on behalf of the Schindlers argues, however, that Terri’s Law is “presumptively constitutional” and asks that the scope of a guardian ad litem appointed by the court include: the authority to make recommendations ensuring Terri is “treated with all of the dignity and fairness to which she is entitled as a human being”; the authority to investigate whether it is in Terri’s best interest to divorce her husband; and determine whether her care during medical crises has been adequate.

In reference to the proposal of investigating whether Terri Schiavo would be best served by a divorce from her current guardian and husband Michael Schiavo, the petition states that “he has abandoned their marital relationship in favor of a long-term adulterous relationship with another woman.”

Michael Schiavo had admitted publicly he has a girlfriend whom with he has a child, although he told Larry King on Larry King Live Oct. 27 he has no plans to marry the woman. “I’m fortunate to have two women in my life that I love very much,” Schiavo said.
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, online at www.FloridaBaptistWitness.com.

    About the Author

  • Joni B. Hannigan