CLEARWATER, Fla. – Amid the pitched legal battle over Terri Schiavo (search) that has been fought through his court, Pinellas County Circuit Judge George Greer has been under the protection of armed guards, and friends say his family also is protected.
Death threats have been made against him for allowing Michael Schiavo to remove the feeding tube that has kept his 41-year-old wife alive for the past 15 years, and the Southern Baptist (search) church that Greer belonged to for years has asked him to leave the congregation.
Greer — a conservative Christian and longtime Republican known for an easy manner — has become the public face of the judiciary in this internationally watched fight.
But despite the mounting pressure, he has been steadfast in his rulings that Terri Schiavo is in a persistent vegetative state and did not want to be kept alive artificially.
"There are very few people who have shown the will to stand up to raw power," said Stetson University Law Professor Michael Allen, who has studied the Schiavo case. "He's one."
"This is simply a case of people not liking this decision, and the fact that a judge is standing up to this is quite important," Allen added.
On Saturday, Greer rejected arguments by Terri Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, that their daughter tried to say "I want to live" before her feeding tube was removed March 18. They argued that she said "AHHHHH" and "WAAAAAAA" when asked to repeat the phrase.
Greer said that "all of the credible medical evidence this court has received over the last five years" suggests Schiavo's behavior is not a product of cognitive awareness. Doctors have said Schiavo's past utterances were involuntary moans consistent with someone in a vegetative state.
When informed of Greer's rejection, Bob Schindler reacted with somber sarcasm: "He did? Great surprise."
It was Greer who first ruled that Terri Schiavo was in a persistent vegetative state and would not want to be kept alive artificially. Three times he has ordered the feeding tube be removed, as requested by Michael Schiavo, and his rulings have consistently been upheld in appeals filed by the Schindlers.
Greer, 63, also stood up to congressional efforts to intervene in the case, rejecting an attempt by the House of Representatives to subpoena Terry Schiavo as a means to force the reinsertion of her feeding tube. Since then, other judges have followed in refusing to act under a newly crafted federal law allowing them to consider the case.
Greer, a former county commissioner, became a judge in 1992. He was recently re-elected to a six-year term, but has announced that he will retire once that term is up.
While in legal circles he is garnering acclaim for his consistent application of Florida law in the case, there has been a price.
Protesters now show up at his Clearwater (search) home. The FBI arrested a North Carolina man it said placed a $50,000 bounty on the head of a judge in the case, although officials didn't name the judge.
This past week, he parted ways with his Southern Baptist church, which had advocated keeping Terri Schiavo alive, after his pastor suggested it would be better if he left.
"You must know that in all likelihood it is this case which will define your career and this case that you will remember in the waning days of life," Calvary Baptist Pastor William Rice wrote to Greer in a letter than later became public. "I hope you can find a way to side with the angels and become an answer to the prayers of thousands."
Greer could not be reached for comment because of the frequent hearings on the Schiavo case, but longtime friend Mary Repper said she recently spoke with him and he judge sounds "worn out" by the case that has been on his docket for more than seven years.
"It's been going on so long and it's reached its fevered pitch," Repper said. "It's gotten so angry and so hostile, but he's still hanging in there."
Repper said Greer has taken comfort in being consistently upheld by higher courts, but his split with his church has been a blow.
"The people in that church should be ashamed of themselves, to demonize George and to ask him to leave for doing his job, for upholding the law," she said. "To me, that was the most offensive thing that has happened so far."
Greer has been asked to step down from the case five times and has refused.
Attorney Pat Anderson, who had represented the Schindlers for three years of the court fight, filed three motions for recusal but said she could not get Greer to budge.
"A lawyer told me when I first got involved in this case that he (Greer) does not have a reverse on his transmission," Anderson said. "He apparently is too prideful to say 'I made a mistake. I made a mistake because I didn't have all the information and I am sorry I made a mistake."'