tampabay.com

Judge blocks DCF from Schiavo case

By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE
Published March 11, 2005


CLEARWATER - A judge Thursday refused to let the Department of Children and Families step into the Terri Schiavo case, saying he believed the agency was trying to circumvent court orders that Schiavo would not want to live by artificial means.

The ruling by Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge George Greer also means DCF won't get to delay removal of Schiavo's feeding tube for 60 days as the agency had sought. The tube is set to be removed on March 18.

The agency, which said it wants to investigate abuse and neglect reports involving Schiavo, is weighing its legal options and won't say if an appeal is planned, a DCF spokesman said.

Greer said DCF's petition, if granted, would violate the separation of powers between the judicial and executive branches of government.

"What is particularly unsettling is that when asked whether DCF believed that part of its mandated duty was to review orders of this court, the answer from DCF counsel was "yes,"' the judge wrote.

Greer noted that DCF has previously received numerous abuse complaints involving Schiavo and declined to intervene in the case in 2001 and 2003, when the feeding tube had previously been removed. Greer said the abuse allegations, from poor dental care to failing to provide therapy and rehabilitation, have all been the subject of previous hearings before him. He said no law gave DCF authority to become a party to a guardianship case such as Schiavo's.

Gov. Jeb Bush, who has said he would do anything he could to save Terri Schiavo's life, said he was disappointed by the ruling.

"I don't know how DCF can't be involved," Bush said. "There's a law that says if the hot line is called and there's a warranted need for an investigation that there ought be an investigation."

Everyone in the case is now waiting to see whether DCF will attempt to take Schiavo into its protective custody, which the agency can do to prevent imminent harm to a child or vulnerable adult. DCF refuses to discuss the possibility.

George Felos, an attorney for Schiavo's husband, Michael, said he believes there is a real danger that the agency will attempt to seize Terri Schiavo.

"If DCF can be pressured to file this obviously unconstitutional petition, apparently they're of the mind-set that they can do anything," Felos said.

David Gibbs III, an attorney for Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, said he encouraged the agency to take just such a step.

"I believe there's more than just cause for them to step in," Gibbs said.

- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.