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Terri's Law defender lashes out

Ken Connor, once considered the leader of Florida's right-to-life movement, will be Gov. Jeb Bush's lead counsel in the defense of Terri's Law, a measure that forced doctors to reinsert Terri Schiavo's feeding tube last month.

Connor, who works in a Tampa law firm, filed a motion Wednesday to dismiss Michael Schiavo's Pinellas-Pasco lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law.

In an interview with reporters, Connor described Terri's Law as a necessary safeguard of Mrs. Schiavo's rights, one that doesn't threaten the independence of the courts.

"The Legislature often passes legislation in response to court decisions," said Connor, a one-time candidate for governor who is working free of charge. "We don't believe this is an infringement of any patient's rights. We believe (Terri's Law) is an extra layer of protection afforded an incompetent patient unable to express her wishes."

Terri's Law was drafted over two hectic days in Tallahassee and adopted Oct. 21. At that time, Mrs. Schiavo's feeding tube had been out and she was without food and water for six days.

Earlier Wednesday, a judge refused to dismiss an effort by Mrs. Schiavo's parents to remove Michael Schiavo as his wife's guardian.

Connor resigned in July as president of the Family Research Council, a Washington think tank, as he contemplated a run for the U.S. Senate in Florida.

He rose to prominence in 1989 when he led an unsuccessful campaign to persuade the Florida Legislature to enact new restrictions on abortion.

The same year, he led a failed effort to oust Florida Supreme Court Justice Leander Shaw after he wrote an opinion upholding the privacy rights of women to have abortions.

Connor's motion in the Schiavo case said the governor was not properly served with the suit. Connor also said that the proper place to file a challenge against a state law is Leon County Circuit Court in Tallahassee, not Pinellas.

In addition, the state questioned the expedited process a Pinellas-Pasco judge has set up to rule on the suit, a process without a trial that does not allow Bush's lawyers to collect evidence.

"Given the life and death nature of the issues before the Court, Mr. Schiavo's attorneys should not be allowed to create a rush to judgment by circumventing standard legal practice," Bush said in a statement.

George Felos, the attorney representing Michael Schiavo, said Bush was engaged in "one of the most shameful delaying tactics" he had ever seen.

Felos said the governor's staff was properly served on Oct. 21, the day Terri's Law was adopted and the legal challenge filed. Bush's lawyers were faxed a copy of the lawsuit the same day and even appeared via telephone at an emergency hearing later that night, Felos said.

And Felos said the law allows the judge in the case, Circuit Judge Douglas Baird, to set up an expedited process, without a trial, to rule on the constitutionality of the law. Felos said Baird can do so because the case involves legal, not factual, issues.

"As an attorney, as an officer of the court, as a lover of the law, to see the governor of our state just playing such low ball, in the gutter, trashy legal maneuvering, it's pathetic," Felos said.

A Pinellas-Pasco judge has previously ruled that Mrs. Schiavo's wishes were not to be kept alive by artificial means.

Mrs. Schiavo, who is severely brain damaged, has been kept alive by a feeding tube for more than 13 years. Many doctors say she is in a persistent vegetative state and cannot recover. Her parents disagree with that diagnosis.

Mrs. Schiavo's parents have previously sought to remove Michael Schiavo as guardian, though earlier efforts were unsuccessful. Now attorneys for Michael Schiavo must respond to complaints that he has abused his role as guardian, including charges that he has withheld vital treatment to his wife and has a conflict of interest because of his relationship with another woman.

"It's very important because the fact of the matter is, Michael should not be her guardian," said Pat Anderson, attorney for the parents, Bob and Mary Schindler. "He has a gross, gross conflict of interest."

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