By June Maxam and Ginger
© The Empire Journal
"People may die during the course of
abuse investigations and the investigation may become moot".
Apparently that's what Florida's Sixth
Circuit Court George Greer is hoping. Maybe even the judges in the 2nd District
Court of Appeals at Lakeland have the same mindset.
It appears that Greer has a vested
interest in the death of Terri Schindler-Schiavo. Her death may make moot the
warranted and overdue investigations of Greer's own complicity in the
case---alleged violations of guardianship laws and well as the alleged cover-up
of criminal wrongdoing in the matter---an obstruction of justice---a
prosecutable offense for which culpability will only increase with judicial
Saying that that death will render the
alleged decade-long abuse of Terri Schiavo, aided and abetted by the court as
moot, Greer denied the motion of Florida's Department of Children and Families
(DCF) to intervene in the case of Terri Schiavo, sentenced to die March 18 by
Greer because she requires food and water to live.
The plethora of alleged improprieties in
the Schiavo case gives immediate cause for the appointment of a special
prosecutor into not only the alleged wrongdoing of Michael Schiavo but of George
Greer. The longer that Florida authorities resist in removing Greer from the
case and bench, the greater the miscarriage of justice.
Conspiracy, collusion, fraud.
Not only has Greer unlawfully become a
party to the action by acting as both jurist and guardian ad litem in the case
but he, like Michael Schiavo and his attorney, George Felos, may need to insure
that Terri Schiavo dies and her body immediately cremated in order to destroy
evidence of not only the alleged criminal wrongdoing of Michael Schiavo but
perhaps by Greer himself in impeding and interfering in valid abuse
And then there's the guardianship issue.
According to an investigation conducted
by The Empire Journal, not only has Michael Schiavo allegedly egregiously
violated the guardianship laws of the State of Florida, but so has Greer. By
refusing to act on the petitions submitted by Terri's parents to remove the
estranged husband as the guardian, Greer has violated his statutory duties as
well as aided in the alleged abuse, neglect and exploitation of the ward.
Greer has steadfastly dodged the
guardianship issue, refusing to rule on petitions to remove Schiavo as guardian
of the person of Terri Schiavo, abdicating the duties of the judicial office as
well as his position on the Sixth Circuit Committee on Guardianship Monitoring.
Condoned Medicare Fraud
In addition, with the knowledge that
Terri Schiavo is not terminal, Greer has actually condoned and participated in a
fraud of the federal and state governments, becoming partners with Michael
Schiavo and others to allegedly engage in Medicare and Medicaid fraud by
allowing the placement of Terri in a hospice without proper certification. He
has also repetitively allowed Michael Schiavo to violate the statutory filing
requirements under guardianship laws regarding the physical and mental condition
of his ward, Terri Schiavo. Although he claims that he has ruled on the subject
previously, each year that Schiavo fails to file the requisite reports and
accountings constitutes a new violation, grounds for his removal as guardian.
At an evidentiary hearing before Greer
in October, 2002, Dr. Victor Gambone, former attending physician of Terri
Schiavo, testified under oath that his patient was not terminal and that was not
in any sort of health crisis. At that time, Terri Schiavo had been a resident of
Hospice of Florida Suncoast for over two years unlawfully as the requisite
certification of her terminal illness had not been filed.
But instead of reporting the alleged
fraud, Greer allegedly became an accomplice to it, granting the husband's
petition to enroll Terri into a Medicaid program for her stay at the hospice.
On Nov. 15, 2002, Patricia Anderson,
attorney for the Schindlers, filed with Greer a petition to remove Michael
Schiavo as guardian. The petition included a declaration of adversary
proceedings charging that the husband had violated a dozen or more Florida
Statutes. As of this date, more some 2 ½ years later, Greer has never ruled on
the motion---in violation of state law. But then there if a hearing was
conducted as required, there would be only one way to rule on the motion---to
remove Schiavo as guardian.
On Jan. 10, attorneys for Mary and
Robert Schindler Sr. renewed their petition for the removal of Schiavo as
guardian of their daughter and as this date, Greer has failed to rule on that
motion too, in direct contravention of Florida Statutes. By refusing to conduct
the required hearing on the issue and addressing the blatant violations of state
law, Greer is not only aiding and abetting Michael Schiavo and George Felos but
he is a lawbreaker himself, a violation of public trust and the oath of office
that he presumably took and filed.
"My oath is to follow the law and if I
can't follow the law, I need to step down".
According to review of Greer's handling
of the Schiavo case conducted by The Empire Journal, Greer has consistently
failed to follow the law and needs to hang up the black robe.
Instead of serving to protect the assets
of incapacitated persons such as the disabled and the elderly, the existing
guardianship system in Florida and particularly in Pinellas County presents the
opportunity for unscrupulous guardians to loot the assets of their wards and
enrich themselves with the complete blessing of the court.
No Report, No Authority
Pursuant to Chapter 744 of Florida
Statutes, each guardian, whether non-professional or professional, is required
to file an annual guardianship report, plan and accounting. By law, the court
retains jurisdiction over all guardians. The court, and that includes Greer, is
required to review "the appropriateness and extent of a guardianship annually
and if an objection to terms of the guardianship has been filed, if interim
review requested, if the guardianship report has not been received and the
guardian has failed to respond to a show cause order".
Unless the court requires filing on a
calendar-year basis, each guardian of the person, such as Schiavo, is required
to file with the court an annual guardianship plan within 90 days after the last
day of the anniversary month the letters of guardianship were signed, and the
plan must cover the coming fiscal year. If calendar year filing is required, the
guardianship plan must be file within 90 days after the end of the calendar
year---or in the case of 2004----on March 30, two weeks after Greer has decreed
that the death order be executed.
The annual accounting must also be filed
at this time by the guardian of the person.
The guardian of the property, who in the
Schiavo case is Alyson Carpenter according to Ken Burke, clerk of the Sixth
Circuit Court, must also file an annual accounting. The annual report of a
guardian of the person of an incapacitated person must consist of an annual
guardianship plan. The annual report is required to be served on the ward and on
the attorney for the ward. The guardian is required to provide a copy to any
other person as the court may direct. Unless the ward is a minor or has been
determined to be totally incapacitated, the guardian is required to review a
copy of the annual report with the ward, to the extent possible. Within 30 days
after the annual report has been filed, any interested person, including the
ward, may file written objections to any element of the report specifying the
nature of the objection.
Section 744.3685 states that if the
guardian fails to file the annual guardianship report, as it is alleged in the
Schiavo case, Greer is required to order the guardian to file the report within
15 days after the service of an order on him to show cause why he shouldn't be
compelled to do so. If the guardian fails to file the report within the time
specified without good cause, the court may cite him for contempt.
However, in the case of Greer, he has
failed to exercise his mandate and instead of ordering Schiavo to comply with
the law or show cause why he shouldn't have to, Greer ignores his responsibility
under the law and allows Schiavo to escape the filing requirement.
If an annual report is not timely filed,
the law states the court "shall", not permissive but mandatory, order the
guardian to file the report or show cause why it is not timely filed. The court
is required by law to review the initial and annual guardianship report to
determine that the report meets the needs of the ward, authorizes a guardian to
act only in areas in which the adult ward has been declared incapacitated and
conforms to all other requirements of law.
In the case of Schiavo, Greer has
allegedly taken no steps as required to force Schiavo to file the requisite
reports and obviously in the absence of the reports being filed, Greer fails to
exercise his statutory duties of reviewing the report. Without the report being
filed or being reviewed as required, Greer in essence is not only allowing
Schiavo to violate the guardianship laws but he himself is actually becoming a
party to allowing the abuse, neglect and exploitation to occur and continue
Greer has consistently refused to
consider the allegations of abuse even in light of the massive evidence
presented to him.
By law, if an objection is filed to a
report, (or the lack of the guardian to file the mandated report) the court is
required by law to set the matter for hearing and conduct hearing within 30 days
after filing of objection.
Greer Violating Guardianship Law Too
Among the issues in the petition for
the removal of Schiavo is his abandonment of the marriage, failure to provide
the ward with her rights including independent legal counsel, palliative care
and rehabilitation services; failure to file valid guardianship plans and
mismanagement of the ward's assets.
There are a number of reasons provided
for the removal of a guardian. Among those in the case of Michael Schiavo are a
material failure to comply with the guardianship report by the guardian; failure
to comply with rules for timely filing the initial and annual reports; failure
to fulfill guardianship education requirements; fraud in obtaining her or her
appointment; failure to discharge her or his duties; abuse of his powers;
wasting, embezzlement or other mismanagement of ward's property; development of
conflict of interest between ward and guardian; improper management of ward's
After the mandated hearing is held, the
court shall enter a written order either approving or ordering modifications to
the report. Greer has failed to do this too.
By law, the approved report constitutes
the authority for guardian to act in the forthcoming year. The powers of
guardian are initiated by terms of the report. The annual report may not grant
additional authority to guardian without a hearing as provided. In the absence
of Schiavo and Felos filing an annual report and accounting, Schiavo has no
legal authority to act as a guardian in that year-----a ongoing violation which
seems to have been unlawfully endorsed by Greer. By failing to take action
against Schiavo to force him to comply with the law, the court is aiding and
abetting Schiavo in violating the law----hardly a role that a judge should
play---particularly when the stakes are a sentence of death..
Any initial, annual or final
guardianship report is subject to investigation only by the court, clerk of the
court or clerk's representative, the guardian, the guardian's attorney, the ward
and the ward's attorney. By failing to appoint independent counsel for Terri,
Greer has also violated that law.
According to Section 744.3715, at any
time any interested person, including the ward, may petition the court for
review, alleging that the guardian is not complying with guardianship plans or
is exceeding authority under guardianship plan, and that the guardian is not
acting in best interest of the ward. The petition must state the nature of
objection to the guardian's action or proposed action. Upon the filing of such
petition court is required by law to review the petition and act on it
Greer has consistently refused to do so,
violating the law himself while allowing Michael Schiavo to violate numerous
sections of state law, using the auspices of his judicial power and resources to
allow an individual to break the law which in the case of Terri Schiavo, is
against the best interests of the ward, the interests that Greer is sworn to
protect. Instead, he has ordered her death to allegedly cover-up the wrongdoings
of not only Michael Schiavo and others involved in the case, but himself.
Terri Schiavo collapsed amidst
mysterious circumstances at her home on Feb. 25, 1990, during a time when
witnesses say there had been on ongoing situation of argument and strife and
possible domestic violence. The only person at the home at the time of her
collapse which resulted in a lack of oxygen to the brain, causing serious brain
damage, was her husband.
Within 48 hours after she had been
admitted to the hospital, her husband's employer, the owner of a restaurant,
arrived at the hospital. Daniel Grieco, also an attorney, consulted with Terri's
parents outside the Intensive Care Unit waiting room, recommending that they
sign documents that would allow Schiavo to handle Terri's medical affairs on the
pretense it would expedite Terri's emergency treatment.
The attorney's rationale was since Terri
was barely clinging to life, vesting Michael Schiavo with this power would
expedite her medical care. Grieco did not mention that Schiavo would have
exclusive power to dictate Terri's medical treatment and the authority to
control the release of any medical information concerning Terri.
Another Greer Contributor
Since there are no documents in Terri's
legal case files regarding this meeting with Daniel Grieco, that agreement may
have been designed as a short term control solution. Notably, the document
allowed Schaivo to conceal Terri's hospital admittance records and the ability
to filter all of the doctor's information. (Daniel Grieco was a $300 contributor
to the 2004 election campaign of Judge Greer)
As an example, on March 5, 1991, just 53
weeks after Terri's collapse, a bone scan taken of Terri revealed a healed
broken right femur bone and healed bone fractures in her ribs, pelvis, spine and
ankle. The radiologist, Dr. Walker, concluded that "Terri has a history of
trauma" and presumed "that the other multiple areas of abnormal activity also
relate to previous trauma". WALKER PDF & Bone Scan
Despite testimony and sworn affidavits
by caregivers attesting to the alleged abuse, neglect and exploitation of Terri
Schiavo allegedly at the hands of Michael Schiavo, Greer has steadfastly refused
to consider any of the allegations.
An orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Hamilton,
initially saw Terri a few months after she collapsed. Schiavo never disclosed
this information to any of the Schinder family.
On June 18, 1990, after a conducted
investigation declaring Terri incapacitated, a hearing was held in a St.
Petersburg courtroom appointing Michael Schiavo as Terri's legal guardian.
The St. Petersburg court files state
that Terri's parents were notified by mail of these events, including the
hearing, and had no objections to Michael Schiavo being appointed legal
Terri's parents emphatically state that
they did not know of the investigation which concluded that Terri was
incapacitated or the subsequent court hearing and were never notified.
Additionally, there is no evidence of
any documentation in Terri's legal case files verifying that Terri's parents
supported Michael Schiavo's guardianship appointment, other than a reference
that Terri's parents were in agreement. It should be noted that during this 1990
time frame, Terri's parents were in daily contact with Michael Schiavo and
nothing was ever mentioned regarding these court proceedings by Schiavo or his
attorney. The entire legal guardianship transaction was handled by attorney
Daniel Grieco who later contributed to Greer's election campaign as did each one
of the attorneys representing Michael Schiavo.
In fact, not only did Hamdin Baskin III
contribute the maximum of $500 to Greer's campaign, but so did his law partner,
Joseph Fleece, thereby the law firm of Baskin and Fleece contributed a total of
$1,000 to Greer's reelection at the time Baskin was representing Michael Schiavo
in the guardianship proceeding before Greer.
In 1993, the Schindlers filed a petition
in Pinellas Circuit Court, to have Michael Schiavo removed as Terri's guardian,
claiming he was compromised by the money he had been awarded as the result of
medical malpractice claims against doctors who had been treating Terri prior to
her collapse, and that he was no longer acting in her best interest.
In August, 1992, Terri was awarded
$250,000 in a settlement by the insurance company of Dr. Joel Prawer who was
later cleared by the state Department of Health of all negligence in the case.
In November, 1992, she was awarded $1.4 million following the malpractice trial
of Dr. Stephen Igel and Schiavo himself was awarded $600,000 for loss of
consortium, giving him a sum of $2.25 million.
A probate judge dismissed the case after
an independent guardian ad litem issued a report stating that he was acting in
her best interests.
For the next five years, the Schindlers
were unsuccessful in their legal maneuvers to get Terri's medical records and
take over their daughter's guardianship. Meanwhile, Michael Schiavo became
involved with another woman. They became engaged in 1996 and have two children
In 1998, Schiavo filed a petition to
have Terri's nutrition and hydration tube removed. The case when to trial in
February, 2000 before Greer as the probate judge handling guardianship matters.
Based on self-serving hearsay evidence by Michael Schiavo, inadmissible by law,
Greer ruled that there was "clear and convincing" evidence that Terri Schiavo
would not want to receive assisted feeding and on Feb.
11, 2000, signed her
death order allowing her guardian, Michael Schiavo to remove the assisted
feeding which will cause her death by starvation.
Circuit Investigates Guardians Annually
According to the newsletter of the Sixth
Judicial Circuit, the circuit investigates guardians at least once a year as
part of the court's responsibility in ensuring that the best interests of the
wards are being met. For non-professional guardians, such as Michael Schiavo,
the reinvestigations are due at the time of filing of the annual accounting or
if the time to file has been extended, then when the annual accounting is filed
with the annual plan.
However, there is no indication that the
court has ever conducted an annual investigation of Michael Schiavo.
The court---and that includes Greer---is
required by statute to review both the guardianship accounting and plan. The
monitoring of a guardianship begins at the initial filing with the court.
Following the initial investigation and filing by the guardian, according to the
newsletter, the court conducts a follow-up investigation on an annual basis to
insure that parties remain qualified under the law to protect the rights, health
and safety of the individual. A $50 statutory annual fee is required for the
initial investigation and annually thereafter for the guardian of the person and
property and guardian of the property alone. The fee for guardian of the person,
such as Schiavo, is $ $25 upon filing and annually thereafter. Professional
guardians are required to pay the fee annually and not for every case.
The court is also required to audit all
guardianship reports----therefore, the court must insure that all reports are
filed. In addition, the court must also conduct random comprehensive filed
audits to ensure that the guardians are acting appropriate regarding their
activities to court accurately. It is the court role of protecting citizens and
assist state in meeting the needs of elderly and incapacitated population but
apparently in the case of Greer, not only has allowed Michael Schiavo to violate
the guardianship laws by not filing the requisite accountings, plans and
reports, but Greer himself has failed to comply with the law.
The guardianship court monitor
investigates when appointed by the probate judge to look into a particular
guardianship case. The monitor reviews al internal, annual and interim
guardianship rights and reports the findings to the court.
Even though Greer has failed to comply
with the law in ensuring that Michael Schiavo is accountable to the court in
protecting the interests of the ward by his required annual filings, Schiavo is
also accountable to the clerk of circuit court who is now Ken Burke.
Burke took office Jan. 1 after Karleen
DeBlaker retired after more than 20 years in the position.
Clerk Required To Do Annual Review
Burke as clerk of the Sixth Judicial
Circuit is required by law to review each initial and annual guardianship report
to ensure it contains information about the ward; physical and mental health
care, personal and social services, the residential setting, application of
insurance, private benefits and government benefits, and physical and mental
The clerk also undertakes an initial
verified inventory of the annual accounting and is mandated by law within 30
days after the date of filing of initial or annual report of the guardian of the
person complete his or her review of the report.
Within 90 days of the filing of the
initial or annual guardianship report by the guardian, he is required to audit
the verified inventory or annual accounting and is mandated to advise the court
of the results of audit. The clerk shall report to the court when a report is
not timely filed.
"Guardianship is an area ripe for
fraud and where most fraud abuse has in fact occurred", DeBlaker has said.
Particularly critical of the way that the Sixth Circuit Court judges handle
guardianships is Robert W. Melton, chief deputy director internal audit
division, certified public accountant, certified fraud examiner with the
Pinellas County Circuit Court. During public hearings conducted by the Florida
Guardian Task Force appointed by Florida legislators to address guardianship
reform, Melton testified that in his office was being "stonewalled" in their
attempts to audit guardianship.
According to a report appearing in the
April, 2004 issued of the Gulf Coast Business Review by Francis Gilpin,
associate editor, Melton told the task force that "In Pinellas County, attempts
are being made to limit the clerk's authority", a county where George Greer is
the Administrative Judge of the Probate Division. "This ranges from guardians
that refuse to submit to an audit unless a court order is received, to judges
that question the authority of the clerk to use professional auditing staff to
conduct the audits".
While Melton advocates opening the
guardianship process to public review, Greer is opposed to that practice. Melton
said openness would be one way to prevent improprieties, making public the
initial inventories of wards' estates and the annual accountings of assets that
guardians are required to file with the court. "The lack of public scrutiny
breeds misdeeds and misappropriations because people who may know the truth
would not have access", according to Melton.
Greer has reportedly said that he sees
more potential for financial abuse by immediate family members who create
guardianships or gain power of attorney status than by professional guardians.
Melton told the task force that there have been times when a Pinellas judge,
whom he did not name, has prevented clerk's auditors from examining the entire
record of a guardianship case.
Melton told the task force that the
assets of wards are being transferred into pooled trusts that he says operate
imprudently outside the supervision of the courts. He adds that the real estate
of wards is being sold at below-market prices to land trusts whose owners don't
have to be disclosed. Pooled trusts are promoted as a legal method for wards to
maintain Medicaid eligibility in nursing homes, according to Melton.
"When we have both guardians and judges
trying to keep auditors out, we have a system ripe for corruption and fraud",
Former chief Judge F. Dennis Alvarez of
the 13th Circuit, Hillsborough County, says that Pinellas County has
historically resisted guardianship reform. Perhaps that's because there's big
money to be made among lawyers and other players in guardianships---particularly
in the disposition of assets of wards including real and personal property
including real estate, jewelry and antiques in addition to the guardian fees.
Melton says that Pinellas judges, which
include George Greer, not only keep court records hidden from public view but
are anxious to extend the cloak of secrecy to the audits. In February, 2004,
Melton recommended to Chief Judge David Demers that he take a closer look at
guardianships in the Sixth Circuit.
Greer recently unsuccessfully challenged
Demers for the position of chief judge of the circuit.
In 2002, the same year as Schindlers
filed their previous petition before Greer for the removal of Schiavo, ignored
by Greer, court auditors concluded that court officials had failed to monitor
guardianships carefully. The clerk's office, which systematically reviews about
2,400 guardianships in Pinellas County annual, set up a fraud hotline. Te report
suspected fraud in a guardianship to county auditors, call 727-453-3728.
While conducting audits of guardianship
reports, the Pinellas clerk's office discovered serious irregularities. Pinellas
County state attorney Bernie McCabe confirmed in 2003 that a preliminary inquiry
had been initiated by his office into selected Pinellas guardianships. However,
despite the by then well-publicized failure of Michael Schiavo to file his
required guardianship plans and accountings, McCabe took no action in that case.
He opened an inquiry into Adult Comprehensive Protection Services which managed
the assets of 300 of the county's elderly and infirm and which had allegedly
mismanaged the funds of some of the county's most vulnerable residents.
The inquiry was stonewalled when the
ACPS attorney denied access to minutes of the agency's board of directors. The
attorney was Richard Pearse, the former guardian ad litem in the Terri Schiavo
case Pearse had recommended that the feeding tube not be removed in his GAL
report to Greer in 1999. Thereafter, Schiavo petitioned Greer for Pearse's
removal as GAL and Greer complied. Since then, Greer has refused to appoint a
new guardian ad litem, acting in the role himself---prohibited by Canon 3 of the
state Code of Judicial Conduct. No judge may serve as a guardian unless the ward
is a member of his own family.
Melton and other critics say the court
system favors the guardian. When court challenges are raised to a guardianship
as in the Schiavo case, the proof needed by the petitioner is in documents which
are sealed by the court---and Greer----claiming its for the protection of the
ward. When complaints are made to law enforcement agencies such as in the
Schiavo case, officials such as McCabe---with a prohibited conflict of interest
with Greer, and former Sheriff Everett Rice who also had a prohibited conflict
of interest with Greer as well as being a member of the board of directors of
the Hospice Foundation of Florida Suncoast, a subsidiary of the corporation
operating the hospice where Terri Schiavi is a resident, claim it's a civil
matter being handled by the courts.
According to critics, guardianships are
based on the assumption that the court will provide oversight, the guardian will
be honest and discharge his duties toward the ward responsibly.
"When we have both guardians and judges
trying to keep the auditors out, we have a system ripe for corruption and
fraud", De Blaker and Melton told the task force. "The practices I have seen in
the short time I have been involved in guardianships is shocking", Melton said.
"It's time to put an end to unscrupulous practices at the expense of our state's
most vulnerable citizens".
Politically connected attorneys who
stand to profit handsomely from guardianship fees are involved with alleged
guardianship abuse. In Greer's 2004 reelection campaign, a massive $144,000 was
raised in campaign contributions, said to be the largest amount ever raised in a
judicial campaign. More than half of those contributors were
attorneys----attorneys whose practices in real estate, probate, wills and elder
law stand to profit greatly from guardianships to which they are court appointed
by probate judges such as George W. Greer.