The judge who tried the Terri Schiavo case and most recently rejected Gov. Jeb Bush’s request to intervene, received a campaign contribution from the lawyer pressing for the brain-injured woman’s death, raising questions of a conflict of interest.
According to Florida’s Department of State, Pinellas County Circuit Court Judge George W. Greer received a contribution of $250 for his 2004 re-election campaign from Felos & Felos, the law firm of George Felos.
Felos, known as a “right-to-die” advocate, represents Terri Schiavo’s estranged husband, Michael Schiavo, who won a court order from Greer to have the woman’s life-sustaining feeding tube removed one week ago.
The contribution’s apparent conflict of interest was raised by an Internet site investigating the Schiavo case, the Empire Journal, and by Rev. D. James Kennedy’s group Center for Reclaiming America.
The contribution from Felos came May 7, 2004, one day after Pinellas County Circuit Court Judge Douglas Baird ruled “Terri’s Law” unconstitutional. The Florida Legislature’s measure was designed to enable Gov. Bush to intervene in the previous instance in which Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed.
The contribution from Felos was the only one made that day, indicating it was not part of a fund-raising effort.
The Empire Journal also reported contributions to Greer were made by three other lawyers who represented Michael Schiavo at various stages in the case.
Deborah Bushnell, Gwyneth Stanley and Stephen G. Nilsson each contributed at least $250 to Greer’s re-election campaign, as did court-appointed attorneys representing the husband’s interest, Pacarek & Herman and Richard Pearse.
WND attempted to reach the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission, the independent body that investigates complaints against state judges, but there was no response.
Felos’ office in Dunedin, Fla., also could not be reached.
The Empire Journal notes that in Florida, a judge is not required to recuse himself if he receives a contribution from an attorney in a case over which he presides.
Nevertheless, a contribution can establish the appearance of impropriety, and the state’s code of judicial conduct requires a judge to remove himself in such a case.
Ronald D. Rotunda, professor of law at George Mason University, told the Empire Journal he sees such contributions as problematic.
He cites a 2002 poll of the American Bar Association concluding 84 percent of all Americans are concerned that the impartiality of judges is compromised by their need to raise campaign contributions.
Rotunda said judicial campaign contributions constitute or appear to constitute a tacit quid pro quo in which the judge favors or tilts towards the contributor-litigant.
For background on the 15-year saga, read “The whole Terri
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Court documents and other information are posted on the Schindler
Links to all “Terri briefs” regarding the governor’s defense of
Terri’s Law are on the Florida Supreme Court website, public information.