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Court leaves Terri's parents out of battle

Posted By Sarah Foster On 11/05/2003 @ 8:00 am In Front Page | Comments Disabled

The parents of Terri Schindler-Schiavo are to be allowed only limited participation in the constitutional battle being waged over their daughter’s right to live, a Florida circuit court judge ruled yesterday.

In a three-page order Judge W. Douglas Baird, in Pinellas County, denied last Thursday’s request by the Virginia-based American Center for Law and Justice for permission to intervene on behalf of Bob and Mary Schindler in a lawsuit filed by their son-in-law, Michael Schiavo.


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Terri Schindler-Schiavo before her disability.

Schiavo, 40, who is Terri’s legal guardian as well as her husband, is challenging the constitutionality of actions by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and the Florida Legislature in stopping the court-ordered starvation death of the 39-year-old brain-disabled woman.

The Schindlers “do not have a sufficient legal interest in the narrow subject [the constitutionality of 'Terri's Law'] that would justify formal intervention,” Baird wrote. However, filing an amicus curiae – a friend of the court – brief “will allow development of their legal arguments in this cause,” he added.

He gave Terri’s parents and their attorneys just 48 hours to file such a brief.

In a press release Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ, expressed regret at this casual rejection of the Schindlers from active participation in the lawsuit.


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Michael Schiavo (Photo: WFLA-TV)

“We’re very disappointed with the court’s ruling,” he stated. “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. It is unfortunate that the court did not find that the parents have sufficient legal interest in defending the state’s actions – actions that provide the only barrier between Terri and death by starvation.”

The ACLJ is a public-interest law firm specializing in constitutional law and the protection of human life.

Keeping the Schindlers from direct action in the brewing battle could be crucial later on, says Patricia Anderson, the local attorney who has represented the Schindlers in their legal fight with Schiavo since 2001.

“It is the difference between being a bystander shouting encouragement to the team and being on the field playing,” Anderson told the Tampa Bay Tribune.


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Bob and Mary Schindler (courtesy Bay News 9)

On Oct. 21, the Florida Legislature passed Terri’s Law, giving Gov. Jeb Bush authority to issue an executive order directing her feeding tube re-inserted and nutrition and hydration resumed. By the time the legislation was enacted and the order carried out, Terri had endured six full days of starvation and dehydration.

Schiavo’s attorney, George Felos, a well-known “right-to-die” advocate, unsuccessfully tried to block Bush’s order, going so far as to threaten legal action against hospital personnel if they obeyed it and began feeding Terri.

Even before the executive order was signed Felos tried to block Bush’s order by filing a lawsuit, but no judge was willing to issue an injunction. However, Baird asked Felos for a brief supporting his contention that the governor acted beyond the bounds of his constitutional authority.

The American Civil Liberties Union – which until that time had been silent about whether Terri’s rights were being violated by her husband who was seeking her death – was eager to join Felos as co-counsel in what promised to be a sustained attack on Bush and the Florida Legislature.

Their 44-page brief was filed Oct. 29. In it they contend the new law violates Terri’s right to privacy and the separation-of-powers provisions of the Florida and U.S. Constitutions.

“It argues that her constitutional right to refuse medical treatment was, in essence, cast aside by a statute that allows the governor to do that under any whim and without any standards and without any review,” Felos said.

Pamela Hennessey, spokesperson for the Schindler family, expressed bitterness at learning of the ACLU involvement. Hennessey said she is concerned that in an “orgy of Bush-bashing,” the media will lose interest in Terri and her horrific situation and further abuses might be covered up.

“I’ve been trying for months to get [the ACLU] to step in and defend the rights of this disabled woman, who has been abused and neglected by a husband seeking to kill her,” Hennessey told WorldNetDaily. “They wouldn’t do anything. Not a thing. Then when they do come in it’s on Michael Schiavo’s side because they see this as a chance to beat up on Bush.”

Hennessey felt that if the conservative ACLJ were involved, it would act as a counterweight to the left-wing ACLU. But that appears ruled out at the moment.

Sekulow said the ACLJ is considering several options including filing a motion with the court to reconsider its ruling denying the motion to intervene. Or it may file an appeal with the Florida 2nd District Court of Appeal. An amicus brief is another possibility.

“We will do everything possible to ensure that the interests of Terri’s parents are represented in this case,” he said.

The ACLJ is representing the parents in only one aspect of this ongoing case – the legal challenge to the constitutionality of the actions of the governor and state legislature. Patricia Anderson is still representing them in all other aspects of the case.

A hearing regarding Michael Schiavo’s guardianship of Terri is slated to be heard by the 6th Circuit Court in Clearwater, Fla., at 2:30 p.m. Eastern.

Court filings, including the ACLJ and ACLU briefs, are posted on the Schindlers’ website



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