An attorney for Michele Finn, who was awarded $48,000 by state lawmakers for legal expenses in her prolonged right-to-die dispute with Gov. James S. Gilmore III last year, now says the state may owe his client "hundreds of thousands of dollars" more because of the governor's intervention in the highly charged case.
Just when Gilmore thought he had put behind him the knottiest political controversy of his tenure by authorizing the $48,000 payment to Finn, whose husband, Hugh, died in a Manassas nursing home in October, her attorney has raised the stakes.
Gilmore's press secretary, Mark A. Miner, confirmed today that Finn's attorney, Gregory L. Murphy of Alexandria, has written the governor asking for "more than $100,000" to end the dispute. No money has been paid thus far.
The saga of Hugh Finn, a Louisville broadcaster catastrophically injured in a 1995 auto accident, captured the nation's attention last summer. When Michele Finn asked doctors to withhold food and liquids from her brain-damaged husband, Gilmore, at the urging of Hugh Finn's parents and some of his siblings, went to court to keep him alive.
Gilmore's eleventh-hour intervention was blocked, first by a Prince William County judge and then by the Virginia Supreme Court. Finn, 44, died in the Manassas facility Oct. 9, eight days after his feeding tube was removed.
Over Gilmore's vehement objection, the Virginia General Assembly this spring approved paying Finn's widow $48,000 for legal fees she had incurred staving off Gilmore's intervention.
The case is sure to be a hot topic in this fall's state elections. Several Democrats, including Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax), who sponsored the legislation that led to the payment, are using their support of Michele Finn, and Gilmore's opposition, in their campaign literature.
Michele Finn has agreed to appear at an Aug. 3 fund-raiser at the Buckhall Fire Department in Prince William for Denise Oppenhagen, the Democratic opponent of Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William), who vigorously fought efforts to remove Hugh Finn's feeding tube.
Last week, the state comptroller, William E. Landsidle, sent a letter to Murphy saying the governor is prepared to pay $48,000 in taxpayer funds once Finn provides receipts for her expenses.
Murphy said he is "suspicious" of the letter because Landsidle made no similar request for receipts from John Finn, one of Hugh Finn's siblings, who was awarded $10,000 by the legislature for costs he incurred in filing a lawsuit that Murphy said was instigated by Gilmore.
Furthermore, Murphy said today that he sent "a more comprehensive settlement proposal" to Gilmore a few weeks ago because his client's legal fees now are closer to $100,000. Michele Finn concurred today that the original payment "doesn't nearly cover my expenses," adding that she isn't prepared "to waive any right to be compensated through other legal avenues," as the language authorizing the payment requires.
Meanwhile, both Gilmore and Murphy are appealing an earlier $13,000 judgment against the governor, imposed in November by Prince William Circuit Court Judge Frank A. Hoss Jr., who ruled that Gilmore had filed a frivolous lawsuit in his attempt to stop Michele Finn.
In a hearing today before a three-judge panel of the Virginia Supreme Court, Murphy urged reopening of the case, saying a higher penalty was warranted "to discourage future misconduct" by governors and other officials who might seek to intervene in what Murphy contends should be a private decision.
Gilmore wants the high court to overturn the sanction of the governor that Hoss ordered along with the payment.
Outside the courtroom, Murphy said he wants Gilmore to have to pay his client "enough to make the taxpayers upset" about the governor's actions in the Finn case. Pressed for a dollar amount, Murphy said, "Hundreds of thousands of dollars ought to get the taxpayers' attention."