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Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court: Schiavo rulings do no harm to Greer

Published September 1, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - Circuit Judge George Greer, whose rulings to remove Terri Schiavo's feeding tube made him a political target, appeared headed to an easy re-election victory Tuesday night.

The Pinellas-Pasco judge enjoyed nearly a 2-to-1 advantage over challenger Jan Govan, a Clearwater attorney in his first run for a judgeship.

In the only other contested Circuit Court race, lawyers Cynthia Newton and Jack Day won over three opponents in the race to replace retiring Circuit Judge Thomas Penick Jr. Newton and Day will square off in a runoff in November.

Newton and Day maintained a lead over Walter "Skip" Schafer Jr., Bill Vinson and Michael Berry Sr., all lawyers as well.

For Greer, the victory confirms that his tough decisionmaking in the Schiavo case, which left him vilified in some quarters, appeared to have no negative impact in the election. Higher courts have repeatedly affirmed his rulings.

"I feel just great satisfaction," said Greer, a former county commissioner and judge the past 12 years. "The whole process has just been very humbling. The amount of support I received and the way voters responded today is something very special for me and my family."

Coincidentally, the Florida Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday on whether "Terri's Law," which gave Gov. Jeb Bush the power to order doctors to reinsert Schiavo's feeding tube, was unconstitutional.

A December St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald poll showed that 65 percent of Florida voters opposed the law.

Govan's troubles were best reflected by his fundraising. While Greer raised a record amount of cash for a Pinellas judicial race, about $144,000 by the end of July, Govan managed to collect only $5,486.

Govan said he wasn't disappointed. He said his aim was to cause an election.

"We were 100 percent successful in doing that," Govan said. "We gave people the opportunity to come forward and have their voice heard. We respect those people who stand up to make a difference."

Govan announced his candidacy just a month after Greer signed an order denying Govan about $50,000 in legal fees in a probate case. Govan denied the lost cash was his motive to run against Greer.

The campaign had its odd moments.

At one point, Govan was accused by Greer of trying to hide his gender to voters. The prevailing political wisdom in Tampa Bay is that female judicial candidates have an edge at the polls.

Greer pointed out that Govan's Web site and his advertising had no pictures of him and no personal pronouns to make his gender clear. Govan denied hiding anything, noting his picture had appeared in newspapers.

While both candidates were ethically barred from discussing the Schiavo case, Greer's supporters said Govan made it clear in his advertising that he was trying to use the case to his political advantage.

Govan sent a mailer to everybody in the county with the "Choose Life" license plate that began, "Dear Friend of Life ... Do you believe that God created life? Do you believe that each of us has the right to enjoy and defend life?"

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