WASHINGTON, D.C.—With Terri Schiavo’s life waning, the focus of this political and legal drama shifts back to another key figure in this most emotional and angry of cases: Pinellas County Circuit Court Judge George Greer. He is the Florida jurist who originally ruled five years ago that the brain-damaged Schiavo, who had been in a persistent vegetative state for 10 years, had no hope for recovery and that her feeding could be removed. On Saturday, it was he who delivered what could likely be the final ruling that Terri should be allowed to die, against the wishes of her parents, a majority of the House and Senate members, and a cadre of dedicated right-to-life activists.
Greer is a conservative, a Baptist, a Republican, and no grandstander. One friend calls him a “plodder.” The
judge has such bad vision he has to memorize proclamations and can’t read anything further than a foot or two away. Yet he is very much in the sights of a sometimes violent movement, whose most ardent followers have advocated—and on occasion carried out—the murder of their opponents, including abortion providers.
The judge and his family are now reportedly surrounded by armed guards. Greer is married and has two grown sons. Protesters have appeared at his Clearwater home. The FBI arrested a North Carolina man it claimed put a $50,000 bounty on the head of a judge in the case, the Associated Press said. However, officials did not name the judge.
The county commission installed a special computer to handle the 100,000 e-mails the court got over the last
two weeks opposing the judge’s rulings. “The tone is very hateful,” Ron Stuart, a courts spokesman told the press. “People claim to be Christian, but the things they are wishing on people are not very Christian sounding.”
Judge Greer had to withdraw his membership in Clearwater’s Calvary Baptist Church two years ago, after the church paper printed stories attacking him. More recently, Pinellas voters received postcards asking them whether they suffered from “voter’s remorse” for re-electing Greer. Other postcards accused him of judicial murder. The judge’s home address went up on the Internet, and dead flowers arrived at his door. A friend wanted to go to lunch with Greer, but reported that the bodyguards wouldn’t let him go.
“There are very few people who have shown the will to stand up to raw power,” Stetson University law professor Michael Allen, told the AP. “He’s one.”
“This is simply a case of people not liking this decision, and the fact that a judge is standing up to this is quite important,” Allen added.
This weekend, Greer rejected rejected arguments by Bob and Mary Schiavo, Terri’s parents that their daughter had tried to say “I want to live” before her feeding tube was removed on March 18. They argued that she made the sounds “AHHHHH” and “WAAAAAAA” when asked to repeat the phrase.
Greer was firm. “All of the credible medical evidence this court has received over the last five years” suggested Schiavo was not cognitively aware, he ruled. In the past, doctors said Terri’s utterances were involuntary moans consistent with those of someone in a vegetative state.
Informed that Greer had turned them down again, Bob Schindler said sarcastically, “He did? Great surprise.” The Schindlers have tried to get Greer thrown off the case, but have failed.
Greer also stood up to Congress, rejecting an attempt by the House to subpoena Terri in order to force the reinsertion of the feeding tube.
Probably the worst blow came when the pastor of his church asked him to leave. “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 Baptist Pastor William Rice wrote to his parishioner. “I hope you can find a way to side with the angels and become an answer to the prayers of thousands.”
Friends say Greer is “worn out” by the case, but as one put it, the judge is “still hanging in there.”
Greer’s uncomfortable turn in the spotlight comes after a Georgia judge was recently assassinated on the bench and the husband and mother of a Chicago federal district judge were killed. Fulton County Court Judge Rowland W. Barnes,
64, was killed when a defendant grabbed a gun from a deputy sheriff and opened fire, officials said. U.S. District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow just missed getting killed when she arrived home after work to find her mother and husband slain by a man she had ruled against who later committed suicide.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 22, 2005