In judicial maelstrom, he wouldn't quit the helm

Published April 1, 2005

George Greer might have been forgiven for thinking that his closest brush with the limelight came early in his life, when he shared a house at college with future rock star Jim Morrison.

But the Terri Schiavo case has propelled the quiet, polite man onto the international stage as the judge who faced down, first, his governor, then Congress and the president of the United States.

Few judges anywhere have weathered the kind of storm that has swirled around Greer since he ruled in 2000 that Schiavo would not want to be kept alive with a feeding tube. Religious protesters say he's guilty of judicial homicide. Some want him impeached. A man in North Carolina was arrested and accused of offering a bounty for Greer's murder and the killing of Schiavo's husband.

When friend Mary Repper talked to Greer recently, he avoided any discussion of the pressures he is under. Instead, the judge wanted to pass along thanks to a friend of Repper's who had written him a supportive note.

"He sounded a little tired," Repper said. "The note from my friend meant a lot to him because there has been so much noise in the other direction."

Greer, 63, is saying nothing about the Schiavo case. A national TV news program even offered a Greer friend theater tickets if he could land them an interview with the judge. The ploy failed.

"The really difficult part of this job," Greer said in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times earlier this month, "is that you can't defend yourself."

Greer is a conservative Republican and a religious man. Friend David Kurland, a Pinellas lawyer, has said, "George is the religious right."

Greer is a native of Brooklyn whose family moved to Dunedin when he was 4. He majored in marketing at Florida State University, where he lived under the same roof with Morrison for one semester. Greer later earned a law degree at the University of Florida.

He settled into a Clearwater practice, specializing in zoning and land use issues. He married, had twin boys, divorced in the mid 1970s, and later remarried.

Greer ran for Pinellas County Commission in 1984, challenging the board's only Democrat. He campaigned on his opposition to building a baseball stadium in Pinellas County (which would eventually be built) and won narrowly.

In 1992, he won a seat on the Pinellas-Pasco circuit bench, running unopposed.

One of Greer's few encounters with controversy - before Terri Schiavo - came in 1998, when he denied an injunction for a woman seeking protection from her husband. The man later killed the woman.

Greer defended his action, saying the woman had not listed any acts of previous violence by the man.

Nothing, however, could prepare Greer for the blistering attacks that came with the Schiavo case.

Last year, he drew his first opponent in a judicial race, largely, colleagues believed, because of Schiavo. Greer handily won re-election.

Recently, the pastor at Greer's church, Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater, suggested "it might be easier for all of us" if he quit attending.

"But you must know that in all likelihood it is this case which will define your career and this case that you will remember in the waning days of life," Calvary Pastor William Rice wrote to Greer. Greer quit the church.

In the interview with the Times, the judge said the case had not shaken his own faith in God.

Greer, a Southern Baptist, said he took an oath to follow the law.

"There are no Ten Commandments out there," he said, pointing to his outer office.