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Judge George W. Greer
June 4, 2004
File No. 90-2908-GD-003
This Cause came to be heard on May 26, 2004 upon the Emergency Petition to Restore Family Visitation filed herein by Robert and Mary Schindler, and Response to Emergency Petition to Restore Family Visitation and Amended Petition to Modify Visitation Rights filed herein by Michael Schiavo. Before the court were Patricia Fields Anderson, Esquire, attorney for Mr. and Mrs. Schindler; and Deborah A. Bushnell, Esquire, and Scott P. Swope, Esquire, attorneys for Mr. Schiavo.Also appearing was Gail Golman Holtaman, Esquire, attorney for Hospice. The court took testimony from seven witnesses, including Mr. Schildler, and received into evidence documents, reports and a VHS tape. The court has reviewed its notes,viewed the VHS tape and read the documentary evidence. Based thereupon, the court makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.
Initially the parties were able to stipulate to two facts. First, visitation by parents, siblings and others were suspended. Second,there was a one-hour visitation on May 23, 2004. Other than these facts, the parties could not agree. The first major area of disagreement was whether or not the Clearwater Police Department("CPD") had closed its investigation of the March 29, 2004 event by finding no criminal activety had occurred. The parents argued in the affirmative and offered a May 14, 2004 news release from the Clearwater Police Department website as support thereof. The guardian of the person argued in the negative and offered theClearwater Police Department LER Case Report printed on May 14, 2004 as support thereof. The court has read both documents and concludes that the investigation has been closed since the CPD "found no evidence of crininal activity, no indication of attempted criminal activity, and no harm done to Mrs. Schiavo." (news' release) and "there appears to be no evidence to substantiate a criminal offense occurred" (Report). While the police were unable to determine with precision what did in fact occur on March 29, 2004, they clearly found no evidence of anything approaching criminal conduct. The Report is a lenthy document and contains 25 pages of single-spaced narrative. To say this was a very thorough, complete and competent investigation would almost be an understatement. The Clearwater Police Department left no stone unturned in its effort to fully investigate this event. The court is satisfied that had a criminal element been present, it surely would have been discovered. The court is a perplexed as anyone as to what actually occurred but the CPD has assured us that the cause was non-criminal in nature. That is sufficient for this inquiry. Therefore, visitation should be restored.
The guardian of the person seeks to modify the visitation rights which have been in effect by court approved stipulation since March of 2000. Much of the testimony offered by the guardian of the person was confined to the event of March 29, 2004 and inasmuch as the Clearwater Police Department has concluded that no crime took place it shall not now be utilized as the basis of action against Mr. and Mrs. Schindler. The court will not substitute its judgment for that of a learned police officers who conducted the exhaustive investigation.
The remaining evidence in support of the modification of visitation deals with a website sponsored by The Life Legal Defense Foundation ("LLDF"). Mr. Schindler testified he did not know who these people were, how they had a link to the family website, who affixed his purported signature to a ten page letter soliciting friend or what was on a video tape of his daughter sold or distributed by this organization. The court is amazed that he was so calm and blase when testifying on these subjects. The court has viewed the VHS tape being distributed by LLDF and finds four snippets totaling some four minutes. All of these snippets come from videos which have previously been placed into evidence in prior court proceedings. The evidence does not suggest that the parents have done anything wrong as regards this website albeit that could have been more vigilant in policing references to them and their daughter.
The final item for consideration is the admission by Mr. Schindler that he intentionally and knowingly violated an order of this court sometime in late summer or early fall of 2003. To complicate matters, he allowed a Randall Terry to make copies of the video without asking or knowing what was to become of those copies. The court may have no alternative but to later require Mr. Schindler to show cause why he should not be held in contempt. Suffice it to say, this court has consistently depended upon the Schindler family to not only conduct themselves appropriately when they visit but also to monitor their relatives and friends who visit. The court now is concerned whether or not it may continue to so rely upon them. At the very least, this is something which may be considered should further violations of court orders occur.
Based upon the above and foregoing, it is
ORDERED AND ADJUDGED, that the Emergency Petition to Restore Family Visitation is hereby granted and the Amended Petition to Modify Visitation Rights is hereby denied without prejudice.