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Press Conference of Michael Schiavo's Attorney, George Felos

Aired March 18, 2005 - 16:13   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: This is the attorney for Michael Schiavo.

GEORGE FELOS, MICHAEL SCHIAVO'S ATTORNEY: ... 1:45 p.m. today. Present at that time was a physician and a number of healthcare providers and a representative of Mr. Schiavo. Mr. Schiavo was not there at the time. I am told that it was an emotional occasion. Prayers were said at the time and the feeding tube was removed without incident. Mr. Schiavo currently is with his wife at her bedside.

Some new information that I have -- I was informed just a moment ago by a deputy clerk at the Florida Supreme Court that a petition for relief was filed in the Florida Supreme Court by the United States House of Representatives that was denied by the Florida Supreme Court. We were also served today in a federal district court action in the middle district of Florida, a suit by Mr. and Mrs. Schindler against Judge Greer, Mr. Schiavo and the attorney general of the state of Florida.

It's my information that another suit was simultaneously filed in federal district court. I have not been served with that. I don't have any additional information on that second suit. Many of you are aware of what occurred this afternoon at the hearing with circuit judge George Greer based upon the motion to intervene brought by the United States House of Representatives. Of course, that motion and request for stay was denied by Judge Greer.

What we experienced today in the subpoena issued by the United States House of Representatives is nothing short of thuggery. It was an attempt to intimidate and coerce the treating physicians in this case, the healthcare providers in this case and Mr. Schiavo. It was an attempt to intimidate and coerce them for carrying out the lawful court order, which they did. This unprecedented subpoena from the House required the healthcare providers and Mr. Schiavo to maintain artificial feeding of Mrs. Schiavo, as you all know.

It is absolutely shocking that, according to the House of Representatives, any committee member or subcommittee member can issue a subpoena directed to any American forcing them to have medical treatment against their will. Congress can't even -- Congress itself can't even pass a constitutional law to that effect, yet, a committee chairman can issue a subpoena, supposedly forcing medical treatment. It was odious, it was shocking, it was disgusting, and I think all Americans should be very alarmed about that.

And I'm open to take any questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Felos, you mentioned the odious nature of this. Judge Greer seemed to agree that there were five years going on with all of this and the Congress waits until this last minute. What's your reaction to his statement there?

FELOS: Judge Greer had some very severe statement about the attempts of the state of Florida to occur under a pretext and I think he was equally as harsh with the petition of the United States House of Representatives. It's obvious to anyone that this was a pretext. There is no subcommittee investigation. This was a trumped up reason to issue a subpoena solely for the purposes of delay, to create delay in this case so Congress can come back in session.

To think that your parent or loved one could be in a nursing home and a hospital and a Congressman can issue a subpoena forcing you to have your love one treated against their will is absolutely shocking and the lowest -- just the lowest type of political strongarming.

QUESTION: Mr. Felos, do you fear a repeat of last time when Mrs. Schiavo was taken to the hospital and the feeding tube was reinserted and it went back and forth so many times?

FELOS: Well, we have heard reports that maybe you can give me further information. We have heard reports that the Congress may be reconvening during their Easter recess. I don't know if that's correct or not correct. It seems that the opponents to Mr. Schiavo's freedom of choice will stop at just about nothing to frustrate her wishes.

She has become a pawn in a political football game between different elements in this country and, at this time, she, unfortunately, is nothing, I believe, nothing more than a cause for certain elements to prove their political prowess and political power. They should be ashamed of themselves.


FELOS: No, I did not say Mr. Schiavo was present. I said he was not present. I said a representative of Mr. Schiavo was present, along with a physician and healthcare provider. I'm not going to comment more than that or name any particular names.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) was one of those that was served the subpoena?

FELOS: The subpoena was directed to Mrs. Schiavo's treating physician and also her former physician. I don't know for a fact whether he was actually served with the subpoena or not, but it was certain -- I know there was one issued directed towards him.

QUESTION: What happened when the feeding tube was removed? Did she react? FELOS: It was a very calm, peaceful procedure with a -- of course, with a degree of emotion. And those there felt the need to pray and I'm told they did.

QUESTION: How come Mr. Schiavo wasn't there then?

FELOS: As you can imagine, this is an emotionally difficult, very emotionally difficult time for him. His wife is in her dying process and he felt that he just wasn't able to be there at that time. But he is with her now.


FELOS: Absolutely.

QUESTION: You said he was at her bedside. Will he stay there now once the tube is removed? How long will he stay there with her?

FELOS: I don't want to comment particularly on his movements and activities. He's there now. I will tell you what happened in 2003, that Mr. Schiavo was with Mrs. Schiavo almost continuously.

QUESTION: Sir, did you see any way...

QUESTION: You talked about the healthcare workers (INAUDIBLE). What's your opinion of subpoena Terri Schiavo was dealt?

FELOS: Mrs. Schiavo was subpoenaed herself. In fact, I received the subpoenas for Mr. Schiavo and Mrs. Schiavo this morning. She was subpoenaed in a cruel -- what would I call it? Just a cruel ruse, to say we have a witness who's been subpoenaed and therefore we can protect the witness from harm. It's a ridiculous and spurious argument. It was done solely so the committee could make a legal argument that they had jurisdiction and authority to protect the subpoenaed witness.

QUESTION: On that subpoena, would you say (INAUDIBLE)?

FELOS: Of course part of that depends on the position of Hospice. I don't believe that the United States Congress can send you a subpoena and tell you they're holding a hearing in your bedroom or your house or your place of business without your permission. That's what they've done regarding this alleged hearing at the hospice of the Florida Suncoast. I can't speak for Hospice, obviously, nor do I intend to. But I would think that they may have something to say about that.

But, I mean, let's go back beyond that. That setting of a hearing and this whole hearing is an absolute sham. And I think you may have heard the statements of subcommittee chairman Waxman, who called this an outrageous abuse of power. And I believe he said the committee had no authority whatsoever to issue these subpoenas. You can subpoena a person -- Congress can subpoena a person to appear to testify and you can ask them to bring records. You can't subpoena feeding tubes and you can't order someone to do something. Congress is a legislative body. They don't have the authority to issue restraining orders and injunctions and commandments. As I said to Judge Greer, this resembles the Soviet Politburo. This didn't seem like members of the United States Congress acting today, but members of Stalin's politburo, saying we're going to command a citizen to be tube-fed or not to be tube-fed. It was simply outrageous.

And the more outrageous thing is not one of those political leaders, not one of them, would ever, ever submit their own family member to the indignity and the illegality that's been shown on Mrs. Schiavo. Yet, for political gain, they can do it to her. Mrs. Schiavo had a right to choose her own course. She chose it. The courts found it. She has a right to die in peace. And I would ask everyone who may be listening to write your congressman, write your senators, and tell them, Terri Schiavo -- call them up. Terri Schiavo has a right to die in peace. Let her go in peace.

And I also want to say something about the shameless conduct of the United States Senate. Senator Wyden from Washington, from the West Coast, made a valiant effort to stop the bill that was passed in the United States Senate which required, in order to be heard at that time, unanimous consent.

And the bill was passed because, ultimately, not one Democratic senator got up and said I don't consent to the bill being heard at this time. And I want to say to Hillary Clinton and Bob Kerrey and Tom Harkin and the -- Patrick Leahy and the Democratic senators, don't do this to Terri Schiavo again. To have this woman's wishes now, to have her feeding tube inserted by a subsequent act of Congress before she dies, would be a horrific act upon her body.

And if the Democratic minority doesn't stand up for Terri Schiavo, then they deserve to be the minority party. If they can't stand up and one person say, no, we're not going to ramrod this through. If they can't stand up for the civil liberties of each and every one of us, then they deserve to be the minority party and the dwindling minority party. It's time for them to stand up. Yes.

QUESTION: Does Michael Schiavo have any security people around him right now? Does he need any and does he have any?

FELOS: I have no comment about his security or any security arrangements.




FELOS: I received a summons and complaint in a federal district court action directed to Mr. Schiavo. This is an alleged habeas corpus proceeding in federal district court asking the court to issue a temporary injunction by the Schindlers.

QUESTION: You know that that's what they did? FELOS: No, I didn't.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) that Judge Moody (ph)...

FELOS: Dismiss that. Good for Judge Moody and the citizens should know that their judiciary, on the federal and state level, have done an extraordinary -- an extraordinary job. After the press conference last night, as you know, the Florida Supreme Court issued an emergency order denying DCF's motion to intervene.

And I want to make special comment about the order last night from the United States Supreme Court on the Schindlers' emergency position for stay. It is the normal procedure that motions for stay, emergency motions for stay, are presented to the one Supreme Court justice who is in charge of the geographical area generating that motion, which is Justice Kennedy. And, in a highly unusual -- in a highly unusual manner, Justice Kennedy, who was fully empowered to consider that stay request himself, specifically referred it to the entire court. And, so, the entire court denied that stay request.

The message could not be clearer from the United States Supreme Court, from the Florida supreme court, from the appellate courts in the state of Florida, from the trial judge in the state of Florida, from the district federal district courts in the state of Florida, who have all reviewed this case over and over and over again, that Terri Schiavo's due process rights were satisfied. They were not only satisfied, that they allowed procedures which gave heightened scrutiny and greater review than the average litigant would have gotten.

The courts have said, without a doubt, that the procedures followed were proper. Everybody got their due in court. These are her wishes and she has a right to carry them out. And I say again to you watching, write your senators, write your Congressmen and tell them. They cannot walk over the dying body of Terri Schiavo for their political gain, for their political deals, for their quorum deals within the Democratic quorum. The public will hold you accountable, especially the minority party, if they permit legislation to be ramrodded through, which would cause the reinsertion of her feeding tube.

QUESTION: Congressional authority denied that they actually got in there. What did happen?

FELOS: Well, to be very clear, I was served by a U.S. Marshal with the committee subpoenas. At least, the person who showed her identification to me showed a badge from the U.S. Marshals Office. That is the -- that is the individual that served those bogus committee subpoenas to me.

We had heard press reports earlier that the Congress had instructed the U.S. Marshals Office to prevent removal of Terri's feeding tube. That's why -- and I did mention that -- I did mention that in the hearing today and asked for a specific order or ruling by the judge. And the U.S. -- the attorney for the United States House of Representatives specifically represented that wasn't -- that wasn't the fact. And, so, we take him at his word that there will be no interference by the Marshals Office.


FELOS: Yes, the subpoenas, the House committee subpoenas, yes.


FELOS: Well, we don't know whether we're at the end of this situation.

And the fact is that opponents of Mrs. Schiavo's rights are continuing in every way possible to defeat them. I hope, I hope for her, for her sake, that they don't. We heard an attorney. We heard an attorney speak, I believe, at one of the hearings saying removal of artificial life support was cruel and inhuman punishment.

It is cruel and inhuman to say to a patient who says, I don't want to be artificially fed, to remove her feeding tube, have her enter the death process and then start life support again. That is -- that was unprecedented before this case. It has happened on two occasions. It absolutely should not and must not happen a third time.

And I say to the U.S. senators who have the power to stop this is, be ashamed. Wear your shame for what you did and atone for it, because to trample on her rights again would be abhorrent. No person anywhere deserves the treatment that Terri Schiavo got from the United States Congress.

And -- and, you know, we might not -- we might have expected that from the majority party, but from the minority party, absolutely not. And it is my information that Senator Wyden, who opposed unanimous consent a number of times on the Senate floor, a number of times on the Senate floor last night, was, in essence, undermined and scuttled by the Democratic Senatorial Caucus, who said we have to cut a deal with the Republicans on that.

And let me ask every one of you, is your loved one's life and a decision to make -- to remove artificial -- artificial life support, a decision whether or not to have medical treatment, is that a subject that should be decided in the Democratic Senators' cloak room in a caucus in which they make a deal to sell out a particular patient because it advances their political interests on some other, on some other matter?

That conduct was even more shocking and disgusting than the conduct of the Republicans that pushed this legislation. And, so, I'm going to say again and again to the constituents of Kerry, Clinton, Leahy, Feinstein Boxer, Terri Schiavo's -- Terri Schiavo's life is in your hands. And to her constituents, you right these senators, you call them and say, we will not put up for that absolutely shameful conduct that occurred in that secret senatorial cloak room.

QUESTION: Will Terri's family be able to return to her side before she dies? FELOS: They're free -- they're free to visit her right now. I want to be absolutely clear about that. There has been -- there has been no effort. There is no effort whatsoever to restrict their visitation. They can go and visit her now. They can stay as long as they want. There are absolutely no restrictions on that.

Also, I did want to mention that, pursuant to Judge Greer's order, that the sacrament of communion was administered to Mrs. Schiavo before her feeding tube was removed.



FELOS: I don't know. I don't know what will happen in the last two weeks, but I will -- I talked a little bit about this yesterday, people coming forward and helping and speaking out.

The only reason that Terri Schiavo's feeding tube was removed today is through the efforts of Senator Wyden, who delayed the Senate vote long enough in order to have the House recess before a bill could pass. And one reason for Senator Wyden's courageous efforts was the lobbying that was done by citizens around the country. And I know of many efforts to lobby the senators, to contact the senators.

And I want to tell everyone out there, don't think, don't think, because the small minority in this country, who is opposed to patient rights, don't think that, just because they yell the loudest and they're the best financed, that your voice doesn't count. Your voice, your letter, your call to your congressman makes a difference, because there are millions upon millions of Americans who feel the way you do. And let your call and your letter be one of an avalanche of calls and letters now that prevents the Congress, the United States Congress, from attempting to pass an unconstitutional bill.


QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) are you or any of your clients receiving threat from (OFF-MIKE)

FELOS: I have no comment about any specific threats that may be made.

QUESTION: The sacrament of communion, is that administered by a priest (OFF-MIKE)

FELOS: That was administered by a chaplain, a priest, not -- a hospice priest.

QUESTION: A hospice priest?

FELOS: Yes, pursuant, pursuant to the order of Judge Greer.

OK, if there are no other questions, thank you.


QUESTION: Just so I'm clear, Michael was not there when the tube was removed? He joined his wife afterwards?

FELOS: Yes, that's correct.

QUESTION: He's there now?

FELOS: He is there now.

QUESTION: He was there as well before, correct? Before they actually took it out, he was there and just left?


FELOS: I am -- I'm not certain whether he was there earlier today as well. So, I can't verify that. That -- it may be so, but I don't know.


FELOS: Excuse me.

QUESTION: How soon after they removed it, did he arrive? Do you know?

FELOS: Shortly afterwards.

OK. Thank you.

WOODRUFF: George Felos, who is the attorney for Michael Schiavo, the husband of Terri Schiavo, her feeding tube removed today, the attorney said, at 1:45 p.m. Eastern time.

He went on to give an emotional, blistering indictment of the Democrats and Republicans, both parties, for what he described as a shameful attempt, in his words, to conduct a shameless -- to walk -- let me get this quote right. He said, if the Democratic Party doesn't stand up for Terri Schiavo, they deserve to be the minority party.

He went on to say that politicians who are using the case of Terri Schiavo should be ashamed. At another point, the attorney, George Felos, he is the attorney for Michael Schiavo, said -- he said to those who are watching, he said, write your senator, write your congressman. He said, they cannot walk over the dying body of Terri Schiavo for their political deals and their quorum deals. He said, the American people will hold you accountable.

Jeff Toobin, our legal analyst, quite an exercised lawyer.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: It was a remarkable statement, but there was also some news in it.

Early on, he said that the Florida Supreme Court had declined to get involved in this case, that it had essentially upheld the judge's decision that the feeding tube should be removed. However, he also said that two federal lawsuits had been filed to try to overturn that decision. So now, it is essentially in the hand of federal judges, who, theoretically, at least, and I think in practice, do have the ability to order the feeding tube to be replaced in Terri Schiavo's body.

So, that's really, basically, her only hope, if that's what her hope would be, besides Congress getting involved again and actually passing a law about the case.

WOODRUFF: So, Jeff, the federal courts, you're saying, have the right to get involved, even though the U.S. Supreme Court and the Florida Supreme Court have both said that they're staying hands off?

TOOBIN: Well, they have said hands off in another lawsuit. This is a new lawsuit filed in federal court today.

Frankly, it does seem unlikely that, given the similarity to the case that has been thrown out, that the federal courts would get involved, but, you know, this case has seen many legal twists and turns. And it does appear, at least for the moment, that the federal case -- I'm sorry -- it appears now that the state case is over, that the state has spoken.


TOOBIN: The state feels that the feeding tube should be removed. Now a federal court is being asked to come in and order the feeding tube to be replaced. Seems unlikely, but it could happen.

WOODRUFF: All right, Jeff Toobin, our legal analyst.

Again, the attorney for Michael Schiavo calling the attempts by the Congress to stop the process from moving forward, he said it's nothing short of thuggery. He said it's absolutely shocking that the Congress would take -- would make a move like this. He said Terri Schiavo has become a pawn in a political football game. And then he went on to criticize not only Republicans, but Democrats, who he said, for their own political reasons, have allowed this process to go forward.

So, the story of the hour, of the last few hours, Terri Schiavo's feeding tube has been removed. We have heard some of the details of that in the last few moments from the attorney for her husband. He is now said to be at her side at the hospice in Clearwater, Florida.

Our coverage of this story continues. "CROSSFIRE" picks it up from here.

I'm Judy Woodruff in Washington.


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