Finn Case at Issue in Campaign

When Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) tried to prevent the widow of Hugh Finn from recovering legal fees incurred as a result of the governor's intervention in a celebrated right-to-die case, Democrats spotted the issue as campaign fodder for this fall's legislative elections.

But a Republican has beaten them to the punch.

Del. Anne G. "Panny" Rhodes (R-Richmond), targeted by Gilmore for defeat in tomorrow's GOP primary, is airing a radio commercial touting her support of Michele Finn's claim, which Gilmore opposed in this year's General Assembly.

"When Hugh and Michele Finn made the difficult end-of-life choice, Panny Rhodes supported their decision," the ad says. "When some of the politicians tried to change Virginia law and take away our right to make those personal decisions, Panny Rhodes stood up for us. She said government ought not to be making those private, personal decisions. They ought to be made by family and faith."

Gilmore's press secretary, Mark A. Miner, called it "a sad day when a candidate uses a family's grief for their own gain."

In September, Gilmore attempted to block Michele Finn's plan to remove a tube providing her husband with food and water after his parents and most of his siblings, who initially had agreed with that decision, changed their minds, saying she was too anxious for her husband to die.

But Gilmore's intervention delayed Hugh Finn's death only briefly, as both a Prince William County judge and the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that Michele Finn was within her rights under the state's right-to-die law in removing her husband's feeding tube.

Hugh Finn, who had suffered catastrophic injuries in a 1995 automobile accident, died Oct. 9.

In January, State Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) introduced legislation to give Michele Finn $48,000, setting off a debate that became the most divisive of the 1999 legislative session. In late March, Gilmore finally abandoned his efforts by signing a budget bill that included the money.

Finn still hasn't received it, however, because of a provision in the budget making the payment depend on another appeal by Gilmore of an earlier court decision to grant Finn $15,731 in expenses.

Craig K. Bieber, executive director of the Virginia Democratic Party, is gleeful about Rhodes's commercial, which he said plays into the Democratic strategy for the fall.

"We're always glad when Republicans try to reinforce our message," Bieber said. "It works much better when they say it."

Bieber predicted that the Finn case will be an issue in selected races in the fall, including two in Northern Virginia.

The winner of a Democratic primary race in Prince William County for the seat held by Republican Del. Robert G. Marshall obviously will make Finn an issue, Bieber said, because Marshall brought the Finn case to the governor's attention and was the most outspoken opponent of paying the money.

Also sure to be attacked for her opposition to the payment, according to Bieber, is Del. Jeannemarie Devolites (R-Fairfax), who sided with the governor in a key vote on the issue. Devolites faces a rematch with Democrat George Lovelace, whom she defeated by just 800 votes two years ago.

-- Donald P. Baker

Council Curbs Credit Card Use

The Leesburg Town Council wants no doubt about who controls the town's purse strings: It does. And nobody, but nobody, had better use the town's credit card for personal use.

That's the fallout from a flap over use of the credit card by former town manager Steven C. Brown and former council member Joseph R. Trocino, both of whom resigned March 1.

The council adopted the limitation on credit card use unanimously last month as part of a deal with prosecutors that ended a two-month investigation into Brown's and Trocino's use of the card.

Brown, who had been town manager since 1990, said that because the card was issued in his name, he was personally liable for it. He contended that he was not subject to the town's 1997 credit card policy, which prohibited town employees from using the card for personal expenses, because he was on a contract with the Town Council rather than a regular town employee.

According to an audit of the town's American Express records for 1996 to 1998, Brown identified as personal almost half of the estimated $73,700 in charges he made on the card and wrote personal checks to American Express each month for those charges.

Stephen M. Colangelo, of McGuire, Woods, Battle & Boothe, who conducted the audit, told the council earlier this month that he could not find "any evidence of wrongdoing" by Brown and Trocino.

The town said it has paid Colangelo $38,685 so far for the audit.

-- Dana Hedgpeth