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  Gilmore Drops Bid to Block Finn Payment

By Donald P. Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 27, 1999; Page B1

Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) yesterday gave up his efforts to block Michele Finn from collecting $48,000 from the state to cover legal fees she incurred fighting Gilmore's intervention in the right-to-die case involving her late husband.

Money to reimburse Finn, whose brain-damaged husband, broadcaster Hugh Finn, died Oct. 9 after Virginia courts rebuffed Gilmore's attempts to maintain life support, was included by the legislature in a budget bill that the governor signed in Richmond.

While the amount of money involved was small, the reimbursement to Michele Finn was one of the most debated measures in this year's General Assembly session. Gilmore fought throughout the session to block legislation that would have helped cover her court costs.

Also included in the budget package was $104 million in bonds designed to ease what the governor called "my abiding concerns" about congestion on Northern Virginia highways.

Even as Gilmore approved the highway bonds, he expressed dissatisfaction over "our system of financing and building of transportation projects [that] has become increasingly frayed."

Gilmore said he expects that his Commission on Transportation Policy will "work towards a new consensus and long-term strategy for the entire commonwealth."

Todd Stottlemeyer, president of the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce, praised Gilmore's action, saying the new bond money is key to "our ability to reduce congestion in the region."

Part of the bonds would finance a $27 million project to widen Route 123 from I-95 into central Fairfax County -- a route many commuters are expected to take while the Springfield Interchange undergoes an eight-year makeover.

Gilmore has until Monday to veto or approve all the legislation passed by the General Assembly in the 46-day session that ended Feb. 27. The assembly will review the governor's vetoes when it returns to Richmond on April 7.

In approving the money for Michele Finn, Gilmore reiterated his view that "at the time I brought the suit, I had grave doubts -- based upon the calls and pleas to me from family members -- concerning whether justice was being done for Hugh Finn and his family. I felt than an additional three and one-half days of court review was not too much for Hugh Finn."

Gilmore added that "the law imposes a duty on me as governor to protect the rights of all Virginians. I did what I believe it was my duty to do."

"In the meantime," Gilmore said, "this matter is still before the court, where I have every confidence that it will be resolved fairly and impartially."

Last September, Gilmore tried to block Michele Finn's plan to withdraw food and water from her husband after Hugh Finn's parents and most of his siblings, who initially agreed with that decision, changed their minds.

But the delaying action was brief, as both a Prince William County judge and the Virginia Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Michele Finn was within her rights, under the state's right-to-die law, in removing sustinence from her husband. Although Hugh Finn was not in a coma, six doctors -- including three called by Gilmore -- had found that he was in a persistent vegetative state, with no hope of recovering.

Even though Gilmore appeared to be following the advice of Michele Finn, who said last month that the governor should quietly sign the measure so that the controversy would go away, she expressed reservations yesterday about the details of the proposal signed by the governor.

She was referring to word changes made in the closing days of the session. Her attorney, Gregory L. Murphy, of Alexandria, warned that those changes had the effect of making it impossible for his client ever to recover from the state, because it tied such recovery to a lawsuit that already has been closed.

Gilmore spokesman Mark A. Miner said that "the governor thought when he signed the budget that Michele Finn would get her money."

Told of the governor's clarifying remark, Murphy said "good. If he tells the comptroller how to interpret it" so that the money is paid, "I can live with that."

Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (D -- Fairfax), who initially proposed legislation to reimburse Michele Finn, said that if her concerns turn out to be true, he'll introduce the proposal again next year.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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