Schiavo Case a Factor in Fla. Race

The biggest name in the race between a Florida circuit judge and his rival is one voters will never hear the two candidates speak — Terri Schiavo (search).

Circuit Judge George Greer is the probate court judge in Pinellas County who has twice ruled that the brain-damaged woman's husband could withdraw her feeding tube after being convinced that Schiavo would not want to be kept on life support.

Greer's opponent, lawyer Jan Govan, decided to run against the veteran judge in part because of the woman's case.

Both of Greer's rulings have been thwarted and the tube reinserted, most recently in October when Gov. Jeb Bush (search) intervened through the hastily passed "Terri's Law" to order the tube be reattached.

Because there are only two candidates in the nonpartisan race, a primary Tuesday will decide the contest between Greer and Govan.

Despite the worldwide attention the dispute over Schiavo has attracted, a judicial code of ethics bars Greer and Govan from discussing a pending case.

A simple mention of Schiavo's name to Govan elicits this deadpanned response: "Who?"

By coincidence, the election falls on the same day the Florida Supreme Court will hear arguments on the constitutionality of "Terri's Law" in Tallahassee.

Among those seeking to unseat Greer are a handful of activists who have rallied around Terri Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler.

The Schindlers have battled their son-in-law, Michael Schiavo, for more than a decade to block the removal of the feeding tube and have criticized Greer's handling of the case. The couple is not actively campaigning against the judge.

Govan has worked for 20 years as an attorney handling a variety of legal matters for families. He said he decided to run against Greer the day another judge ruled against "Terri's Law."

Since then, Govan has appealed to anti-abortion groups that have taken up the Schindlers' cause as a right-to-life issue. Earlier this month, he mailed 1,800 fliers to Floridians who have bought "Choose Life" license plates, and he recently held a gathering for those involved in anti-abortion causes.

In some of Govan's campaign literature, he addresses the prospective voter as "Dear Friend of Life."

"Do you believe that God created life?" reads one mailing. "Do you believe that each of us has the right to enjoy and defend life? Do you believe that no person shall be deprived of the right to enjoy and defend life because of race, religion, national origin, or physical disability?"

Govan, 48, says he is running because it is his civic duty to challenge a judge some doubt.

"When I look at this I see a court system in crisis," he said. "I think I have an obligation to do something."

But Greer, a public figure in Pinellas who has been on the bench for 12 years, has legions of supporters. The 62-year-old judge has not faced an opponent in two previous elections.

"It's humbling the support I have received," he said.

Greer has raised more than $150,000, 10 times what Govan has raised as of the end of July. Greer's campaign has raised about five times more than in 1998, when the judge ran unopposed.

While both Greer and Govan are longtime members of the Pinellas legal community, the two hardly know each other. Both are members of Calvary Baptist Church, which has such a large congregation that the two men said they have never as much sat in the same pew.

The only other time the two have crossed paths is in court. Earlier this year Greer denied Govan more than $50,000 in attorney's fees from the estate of a man who committed suicide after killing his girlfriend. Greer ruled the fees were not in the best interest of the estate.

Govan denied that the ruling played a factor in his challenging Greer.