What Went Wrong

Steve Sailer reproduces a letter from a Florida lawyer, who comments on how the seemingly perverse outcome of the Terri Schiavo litigation came about:

I have been following the case for years. Something that interests me about the Terri Schiavo case, and that doesn’t seem to have gotten much media attention: The whole case rests on the fact that the Schindlers (Terri’s parents) were totally outlawyered by the husband (Michael Schiavo) at the trial court level.
This happened because, in addition to getting a $750K judgment for Terri’s medical care, Michael Schiavo individually got a $300K award of damages for loss of consortium, which gave him the money to hire a top-notch lawyer to represent him on the right-to-die claim.
By contrast, the Schindlers had trouble even finding a lawyer who would take their case since there was no money in it. Finally they found an inexperienced lawyer who agreed to take it partly out of sympathy for them, but she had almost no resources to work with and no experience in this area of the law. She didn’t even depose Michael Schiavo’s siblings, who were key witnesses at the trial that decided whether Terri would have wanted to be kept alive. Not surprisingly, Felos steamrollered her.
The parents obviously had no idea what they were up against until it was too late. It was only after the trial that they started going around to religious and right-to-life groups to tell their story. These organizations were very supportive, but by that point their options were already limited because the trial judge had entered a judgment finding that Terri Schiavo would not have wanted to live.
This fact is of crucial importance — and it’s one often not fully appreciated by the media, who like to focus on the drama of cases going to the big, powerful appeals courts: Once a trial court enters a judgment into the record, that judgment’s findings become THE FACTS of the case, and can only be overturned if the fact finder (in this case, the judge) acted capriciously (i.e., reached a conclusion that had essentially no basis in fact).
In this case, the trial judge simply chose to believe Michael Schiavo’s version of the facts over the Schindlers’. Since there was evidence to support his conclusion (in the form of testimony from Michael Schiavo’s siblings), it became nearly impossible for the Schindlers to overturn it. The judges who considered the case after the trial-level proceeding could make decisions only on narrow questions of law. They had no room to ask, “Hey, wait a minute, would she really want to die?” That “fact” had already been decided.

I can’t comment on the quality of the work done at the trial level without reading the transcript, but in general, what this lawyer says is correct. The reason why appeals don’t often succeed is that all fact-finding is done in the trial court. If there is evidence to support the facts found by the judge or the jury, those facts are set in concrete from that point on. The question on appeal is only whether proper procedures were followed and the law was correctly applied. It is not hard to imagine that the Schindlers had no idea what they were getting into, and were ill-equipped, financially and otherwise, to fight a legal battle against their son-in-law. By the time they started garnering outside support, it was too late.
Via Michelle Malkin.
UPDATE: As several readers have noted, the statute that Congress passed last week was intended to mandate a new look at the facts, with no deference paid to what happened years ago in the Florida state court. This is what is meant by a “de novo” review. But, as we have said many times, the federal district court took an unreasonably narrow view of the act, and simply deferred, once again, to the facts that Judge Greer found long ago. This cannot be blamed on the inherent, and appropriate, principles of our judicial system.

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