Monday, August 23, 2004

Terri Schiavo's Case Nears Critical Point

As many of you will recall, the Florida Supreme Court will be hearing oral arguments on the case of Terri's Law on August 31. Terri's husband Michael Schiavo, through his attorney George Felos, has challenged the constitutionality of the law, passed by the Florida legislature and signed into law by Governor Jeb Bush last October.

The nominal grounds for Felos' challenge is that it violates the separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches, by granting the governor the authority to usurp what is normally considered the prerogative of the courts. I've written at some length about the legal issues here and here. But what is really at stake, as I have also argued before, is the god-like power of judges, such as Pinellas County Judge Greer and Appellate Court Judge Baird, to decide who may live and who may die.

Michael has failed to comply with a 1996 court order compelling him to disclose changes in Terri’s medical condition to her parents and to notify the staff that they may do just that. On a visit to Terri on July 30, the Schindlers noticed a wrist band on Terri from a local hospital and inquired as to when and why their daughter had been hospitalized. The staff refused to provide the information. A phone call was placed to Michael to ask permission to disclose details to Terri’s parents. He denied permission. Michael's defiance to this court order is ongoing. So far, he continues to deny the Schindlers information about their daughter’s medical condition.

The Schindlers are still contesting Michael's guardianship of Terri. Michael has demonstrably failed to meet the standard for guardians specified under Florida law, and so the Schindlers filed their petition challenging Michael's guardianship on November 15, 2002. But Judge Greer has yet to rule on it. As I reported in March, Michael has so allowed Terri's care to deteriorate that she had developed bedsores, and had five teeth decay to such an extent that they had to be extracted. Also, Michael failed to submit the annual care plans for Terri required under Florida statute for the years 2001, 2002, and 2003. Failure to file the care plans is a clear breach of Florida law, and should be sufficient cause to remove Michael as guardian. Michael's failure to comply with the law, and the growing evidence of Terri's neglect, led the Schindlers to file a "Writ of Quo Warranto", demanding that Michael show cause why he should not be removed as guardian. Judge Greer dismissed the Writ, stating that the Schindlers had ample legal remedy in their 2002 Petition (which he has not ruled on), and that "extraordinary relief will not be granted in cases where the granting of it will result in confusion and disorder." In a further display of judicial toadyism, Judge Greer actually allowed Michael to "back file" the aforementioned care plans for 2001, 2002, and 2003, while the Writ of Quo Warranto (not to mention the original 2002 Petition) was before him for consideration. We could all wish that the courts, and other government agencies, were so accommodating to the rest of us when we fail to comply with legal mandates in a timely fashion.

In a related note, on August 2nd Michael Schiavo failed to show up for a scheduled Deposition in the 2002 Guardianship matter. This is not the first time that Michael has resorted to "no show" tactics in order to delay progress in Terri's case. Judge Greer himself ordered that both Michael and Jodi Centonze, his live-in girlfriend and mother of his two children, be deposed. But Judge Greer has in no way sanctioned Schiavo or his attorney, George Felos, for failing to comply with his own order. A new date for the deposition is scheduled for today, August 23rd. We'll see if Michael can be troubled to show up for this one.

It seems that Judge Greer and Michael are engaging in similar stalling tactics. Why? Well, the obvious answer is that the Supreme Court arguments are looming on the horizon. Most legal experts expect the Court to uphold the ruling that Terri's Law is unconstitutional. Furthermore, the Schindlers' legal team expects that, if the Supreme Court rules as expected, it will do so relatively quickly. Michael, George Felos, and Judge Greer are, in all likelihood, hoping that a quick Supreme Court ruling will render the whole guardianship matter moot. Once Terri's Law is ruled unconstitutional, Felos will, almost certainly, immediately apply for a new order to remove Terri's feeding tube and a new death date. As I have written before, "once Terri's Law is declared unconstitutional, that puts an end to the inconvenient questions and demands of Gov. Bush and the Schindlers. Against the fact of Terri's death, none of those problematic issues will have much actuality. Felos and his comrades at the Hemlock Society and 'Death-with-Dignity' will have their test case, and the legal means to continue apace their offerings to Death The All-Embracing. "