Heartache, Now Court for Brazilians

Since they departed in 1999 -- after a glamorous Washington tour in which they were the diplomatic It Couple and frequent hosts to their close friend Princess Diana -- life has been no bed of roses for former Brazilian ambassador Paulo Tarso Flecha de Lima and his wife Lucia.

They are still grieving over the October 2000 death of their 38-year-old son, Paulinho, who succumbed in Brazil after gastric bypass surgery to correct his morbid obesity. Now the Flecha de Limas are in D.C. Superior Court suing the U.S. insurance company and the Swedish underwriter that refused to pay for some $400,000 in medical expenses for their son.

"I loved my son very much, and I will never recover from his death," Lucia Flecha de Lima told us yesterday from the capital city of Brasilia, where her husband runs an international consulting business and she is secretary of tourism. "I just hope we can punish the insurance companies and help other parents so they don't have to go through what we went through. It was terrible to have our son dying and at the same to cope with receiving nasty and insensitive letters from the insurance people."

Her husband, who is the designated plaintiff, told us: "Thank God, we could afford the medical expenses. But I felt I had to do something, as a moral obligation, for those who are discriminated against because they are obese."

On Friday, D.C. Superior Court Judge Stephanie Duncan-Peters refused to dismiss their complaint that the insurance companies, by declining to cover Paulinho's emergency surgery, violated Washington's anti-discrimination laws forbidding discrimination for reasons of personal appearance and disability, among other causes. They want actual and punitive damages. Washington lawyer Paul Kiyonaga is handling their case.

Washington lawyer Jeffrey Robinson, who represents the defendants -- Indianapolis-based International Medical Group Inc. and Sweden's Sirius International Insurance Corp. -- declined to comment "because this is a matter that is being litigated."

Big Voice, Big Issue

* Cause celeb Michael Bolton, crusading against domestic violence, certainly has been busy during his trip to Washington.

The 50-year-old crooner met yesterday with Attorney General John Ashcroft and Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, sang last night at Union Station during a reception touting the issue, and today visits Capitol Hill to buttonhole members of the House and Senate.

"There is a division in this country about whether to go to war or not," Bolton, the father of three daughters, told The Post's Anne Schroeder. "But there is a unanimous consensus to protect Americans from terrorism. We are now basically looking for the president to turn his focus simultaneously inside this country and protect Americans from Americans. Violence against women are acts by Americans and we can't really be indecisive about it. This is a type of terror that goes on in American homes -- and we have to wage a war on that."

Schroeder asked tenor Bolton -- best known for his hit recording "When a Man Loves a Woman" -- if he managed to share some music with baritone Ashcroft. "I didn't get a chance to hear him," he replied, "though I offered to sing a duet with him and said I would gladly take the high notes."

But babe-magnet Bolton bristled when Schroeder asked if he's romantically unattached. "You're belittling me!" he claimed, and told Verizon Wireless CEO Denny Strigl, who was listening in on the interview: "You see, Denny, how they belittle me?" But finally Bolton answered: "Yes. I am single."

THIS JUST IN...

* Talk about homeland security! Here's how Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, during a live Tuesday night radio interview at the Pentagon, answered WMAL-AM host Chris Core's question about whether he has duct tape, plastic sheeting and a three-day supply of bottled water at home: "I would like to say I did. I don't believe we do. But I do have a miniature dachshund named Reggie, who looks out for us."

* William Morris Chairman Norman Brokaw phoned us yesterday to dispute the New York Post's fascinating item that Brokaw's client, Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), was trying to wrangle movie stars for his presidential campaign when he dropped by the talent agency's Beverly Hills office on Friday. "He just came to talk about himself and his campaign to around 40 of my partners and members of the staff in the conference room, and the issue of celebrity supporters never came up." We do hear that later that day, Edwards raised more than $200,000 at a Hollywood fundraiser, and that well-connected environmental activist Laurie David, wife of comic Larry David, has joined the Edwards bandwagon -- which presumably is not a Sport Utility Vehicle -- and has been working the phones to coax loose change from the pockets of the rich and famous.

* In all the wrong places? The folks from NBC's latest reality show, "Looking for Love" -- a craven knockoff of Fox's "The Bachelor" -- are in town searching (according to Carlyn Davis Casting in Falls Church) for a caucasian "All-American Male -- Capitol Hill & Lawyer types a plus! 6 feet tall and above. Age 27 to 34. Single. Attractive & Interesting. REAL types. NO actors." The flyer adds: "We are also searching for women to be on the show -- attractive, professional types, any ethnicity, 20s-early-30s." At least there's no mention of buckets of snakes, leeches and scorpions.