Thursday, March 17, 2005

In Schiavo Feeding-Tube Case, Notoriety Finds Unlikely Judge (or; let's hear it for judge kevorkian!)

By ABBY GOODNOUGH

MIAMI, March 16 - For most of his career, Judge George W. Greer presided over mundane local disputes that drew little notice outside Pinellas County or even his courtroom. People who know him say he considers himself a "compassionate conservative," a man whose religious faith is as dear to him as his reputation as a legal scholar.

For the past seven years, though, Judge Greer, of Circuit Court, has been at the center of one of the nation's most contentious civil cases, the battle over whether to withdraw the feeding tube of a critically brain-damaged woman, Terri Schiavo. The case has made him a target of religious conservatives and others who object to ending any life prematurely. He resigned from his Southern Baptist church and lately travels under heavy police protection, not even going to lunch unaccompanied.

Over the years, the case has traveled all the way to the United States Supreme Court. Yet it always returns to Judge Greer, 63, who most recently ordered that Mrs. Schiavo's feeding tube be removed on Friday. His finding that Mrs. Schiavo would rather die than be kept alive artificially, based on testimony from her husband, Michael, has prompted protests around the world.

Opponents have sent hundreds of letters and e-mail messages to the judge, picketed his courthouse in Clearwater, and, in a few cases, friends said, threatened his life. He stopped attending his longtime church, Calvary Baptist in Clearwater, in 2003 after it sent a publication to the congregation sharply criticizing him.

Now, as protesters descend on Pinellas County, where Mrs. Schiavo is in a suburban hospice, and Tallahassee, where they are lobbying Gov. Jeb Bush and the Legislature, the judge's friends say he remains resolute. Yet they say stress is afflicting him and his family, especially after the recent killings of a state judge in Atlanta and a federal judge's husband and mother in Chicago.

Judge Greer, a former Pinellas County commissioner who was elected to the Sixth Circuit Court in 1992, declined to be interviewed, and neither the court nor the county sheriff's office would discuss his security arrangements. But several of his friends said that in recent weeks, at least two sheriff's deputies have escorted him almost everywhere.

"It's killing me to watch him struggle with this," said Mary, a retired political consultant who worked on several of Judge Greer's campaigns. "Armed guards with him all the time. People threatening to kill him and claiming it has something to do with the right to life - explain that, will you? I know he's concerned about his family and his wife, because it has gotten so ugly."

Judge Greer was born in Brooklyn but grew up in Dunedin, a small Pinellas County town on the Gulf of Mexico. He stayed in Florida for college and law school, and returned to the Tampa area to practice law. He divorced and remarried, and has two adult sons and a Yorkshire terrier that friends said he dotes on. He won a seat on the Pinellas County Commission in 1984 and spent the next eight years learning how to weather political maelstroms.

"He always voted the way he sincerely believed to be right," Ms. Repper said, "regardless of how many people were standing in front of him screaming and carrying on."

Judge Greer, whose eyesight is so poor that he does not drive, has a soft voice and a patient manner in the courtroom. In his order that Mrs. Schiavo's feeding tube be removed, he politely cited the "excellent argument" of both sides' lawyers, even as he wrote, "The court is no longer comfortable granting stays simply upon the filings of new motions and petitions since there will always be 'new' issues that can be pled."

The case, Schindler v. Schiavo, landed on his desk in 1998. Michael Schiavo wanted to remove the feeding tube, eight years after his wife suffered extensive brain damage when her heart briefly stopped, possibly due to a potassium deficiency.

from bill: there's a good few things that were inconsequential to the case: for one thing, michael schiavo took out a life insurance policy on his wife a little while before he petitioned to take away her feeding tube.
for another; terri schiavo was undergoinng therapy, and she was showing marked improvement before her husband halted it.
third; michael schiavo has a girlfriend, with whom he has had children.
fourth; this is setting a wild precident, judge greer has literally ruled that it is legal to kill a person because they aren't able to defend themself.

my mother has multiple sclerosis: she is disabled, she needs my father's help, mine and my siblings for many things. does the fact that she is disabled mean that I have to worry about some judge saying that it is legal to kill her? after judge greer's ruling, I do.

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