Episode 3.5: The Greek
Dan Grieco was at Michael Schiavo’s side from the beginning: Employer, attorney, and friend. In this special episode of Lawless, Grieco remembers the early days of the Schiavo case, and the opening legal moves that would set off a decade of bitter litigation.
Audio sources listed at the bottom of the transcript.
AMBI: TRAVELING SOUNDS
It’s August 10th, 2021. I’m driving to St. Petersburg, Florida, to meet someone who was a key figure in the Schiavo case at the very beginning. Way back before it was even a “case.”
I’m traveling with WORLD Radio production assistant, Lillian Hamman. She’s tall and smart—a distance runner. Lillian joined the Lawless team out of Berry College. Wherever we go she records everything. I call Lillian “The Sound Queen.”
We’re driving to meet Dan Grieco. If you’ve been listening to Lawless since Episode 1, you’ve heard from Grieco. He was Michael Schiavo’s first attorney, his former boss…and his friend. We wanted you to hear more of what Grieco had to say.
Grieco is retired now. Lives in an upscale apartment building not far from the beach.
GRIECO/LYNN: I’m here…There he is!…Hi, I’m Lynn, so nice to meet you…I’m Dan…this is Lillian…Hi, Lillian, how are you?
Lillian and I meet him there, in the parking garage.
Grieco’s name means “the Greek.” But he looks one hundred percent Italian--sharp features and arresting eyes.
I’ve asked a lot of people to speak to Michael’s side of Terri’s story. It’s weird. So far, Dan Grieco is the only one who said yes.
From WORLD Radio, and the creative team that brings you The World and Everything in It: This is Lawless.
I’m New York Times bestselling author and WORLD Magazine senior writer Lynn Vincent.
Lawless is a new true crime podcast that examines a frightening fact of American life: That not every crime is against the law. In America, the essential value of being human has eroded to the point that what once would have been prosecuted as a crime is now unexceptional. Even celebrated.
In Season 1 of Lawless, we’re investigating Terri Schiavo’s story, a case that in 2005 shocked the world.
Welcome to The Point Five, a special episode of Lawless.
Why is this episode special? Well, have you ever heard or watched the same news story covered by two different media outlets and wondered…
JOY REID, MSNBC: This video from over the weekend shows a horse patrol for US Customs and Boarder Protection trying to corral human beings like cattle. These horrifying images seem far more reminiscent of the Fugitive Slave Acts of the 1790s and 1850, and not 2021.
SARA CARTER, FOX NEWS: There isn't a Boarder Patrol agent or law enforcement agent here in Del Rio who isn't outraged by statements comparing what happened here in Del Rio to slavery.
Are these reporters covering the same story? Are they even on the same planet? Why am I getting two different sets of facts?
There are reasons for that. Sometimes, reporters include four of the five W’s—who, what, when and where. Their why, though, isn’t driven by facts, but by worldview. Sometimes, reporters are trying to beat other media to a story and—as in the false stories about the Border Patrol using whips on migrants—don’t take time to verify the facts. Other times, reporters are simply pressed for air-time and find themselves forced to hit only the high points, leaving important context on the cutting room floor.
That’s why we created The Point Five, a series within the series. Each episode of The Point Five will take you deeper into the Schiavo case, presenting critical, street-level reporting—interviews and context that will let you weigh all the facts and make up your own mind.
We’re premiering The Point Five here, in the regular Lawless time-slot, just to make sure you know about it. To hear more of these special episodes The Point Five episodes, visit LawlessPodcast.com and subscribe.
Here’s episode 3.5: The Greek.
SOUND: GRINDER/CONSTRUCTION SOUNDS
Lillian and I start our interview with Grieco in a conference room, but the construction guys in the lobby have other plans. Lillian is wearing headphones and holding a big boom mic. That grinder sound?
LILLIAN: Hold on…
LYNN: Oh, that’s pretty bad?
LYNN: They’ve got the big grinder on now.
Finally, the Sound Queen makes the call: we head upstairs to Grieco’s apartment.
DAN GRIECO: Well, this is better…I'm glad it doesn't look as bad as it does sometimes.
LYNN VINCENT: No, I was just thinking, wow…The dishes are clean.
Windows wrap a large great room in a city view. The decor has an international flare—with items collected from his travels around the world. Leather club chairs. Fine art. A Japanese credenza.
The three of us sit down at the kitchen table. Then Grieco tells Lillian…
DAN GRIECO: All right…mic me up.
In the two years leading up to Terri Schiavo’s brain injury, Michael Schiavo had worked as manager at Dan Grieco’s restaurant, Agostino’s, but he had also become a good friend. As we reported in Episode Two, Grieco arrived at Humana Northside just hours after Michael found Terri lying unresponsive in the hallway of their apartment. And Grieco was there when Dr. Samir Shah suggested that Terri had suffered from a secret case of bulimia.
I asked him if he had ever noticed anything odd about Terri’s weight or eating habits?
DAN GRIECO: She never looked underweight. She was a perfectly sized petite woman. facially you know, her body was that of a petite girl. I mean, size two or something, you know, I don't know.
LYNN VINCENT: When you ate together at the restaurant, you never noticed her binging? Or…
DAN GRIECO: Not really. No. I do know very well, the difference between anorexia and bulimia. And some people have both in a sense, but at that point, you know, it just wasn't the thought process, because I would have recognized a gaunt look or something when somebody seriously, I hate to represent a lot of drug addicts, and particularly to females, you know, become gaunt and trim and, and skinny and unhealthy. And none of that. None of that was in her. No.
After fighting for hours to save Terri’s life, Humana doctors delivered a grim prognosis to her family. But Grieco wanted a second opinion. And when he got that opinion, he kept it to himself.
DAN GRIECO: So I called Will Greenberg, who was a Board Certified neurologist, who had, who I was personal friends with, and who was a had been an expert witness in some of my cases, my personal injury cases…And told him what the basic facts that we knew at that point…And I didn't quite convey it to Michael. Because he was the one that was mostly there looking for some ray of hope. But Dr. Greenberg, told me basically, that this is very unlikely to have a good outcome.
LYNN VINCENT: But you didn't share that with Michael at the time in
DAN GRIECO: No.
SPONSORSHIP MESSAGE: Lawless is made possible by listeners like you. Additional support comes from Samaritan Ministries, a Biblical solution to health care, connecting Christians across the nation who care for one another spiritually and financially when a medical need arises. More at samaritanministries.org/worldpodcast.
Not being a member of the family, Grieco never went back to visit Terri. But he did continue to look for ways to support Michael as his employer and friend.
DAN GRIECO: Mike couldn't come to work. I mean, we didn't, we didn't want him to. And, and not not for anything, but we continued to pay Mike for like six months, he did come back a couple of times to try to do it to get his mind off it. But it was not successful. You know, because it because he looked unhealthy. And if there's, you know, vibrant guy before who had you know, he was trim, maybe 210 pounds? Or, You know, he he looked older, you know, and it took a short period of time.
LYNN VINCENT: Haggard?
DAN GRIECO: Yeah, yeah. And it was it was almost too much to bear. And we had a lot of conversations about what to do next…there were questions being asked about where are we going to take her Where are we going to put her they're going to try to take her home… and it was all kinds of things, so we had to narrow it down. And I'm not gonna say Bob, Bob was kind of asserting some some little authority there. And I don't think that was specifically what it was. But we had to have the main person who is going to arrange for flights if she was going to be taken somewhere arranged for where she was going to go. And, you know, financial transactions, and to be able to sue on her behalf, you know, because she's still alive. So if you bring a lawsuit, she's she's a party. So to make him a party to represent her, she can't speak, she can't do anything. So if that were going to happen, because what was coming next, was I needed Michael to be a plaintiff…And the first thing to do is what I did. Now I can't give you a date, but it was rather quickly, I filed a petition to have him appointed as the guardian.
As our interview goes on, the sun moves across the sky and washes the great room in a bright golden light. Grieco gets up and closes the blinds.
LYNN VINCENT: I would have thought that the husband would automatically be the guardian. But that's not the case in Florida.
DAN GRIECO: Not the case. No. When you when somebody is going to if it's temporary, or something like that, a husband is still supposed to have a power of attorney…
That will come as a surprise to many people, just as it did to me. In fact, pundits and podcasters would fight over this very fact for the next dozen years—outraged at the idea that Michael would have to fight the Schindlers for Terri’s guardianship.
GRIECO: You understand that at 26 years old, people don't get a DNR or living will, which is, what dictates what you want done to you in the event it's determined that you are in an irreversible condition. Because while even though she was in that condition, it would still require a husband to have the power of attorney or guardianship to transact financial things. But at some point you have to get because it's going to be her financial well being and her physical well being that the court needs to have somebody that can speak in her favor. And now that the husband is a natural guardian, but you have to make it legal. And that's what we did.
LYNN VINCENT: So…there are conflicting accounts here…There was the petition and the hearing. And in Michael's book, he said, The Schindlers didn't bother to show up for the hearing. In the Schindlers’ book, they say they didn't know about the hearing.
DAN GRIECO: That's probably true. It was an emergency hearing. It had nothing to do with them. You know…everybody's saying this after the fact, when they started to have this conflict. Up to that point, anything you heard, Lynn, from the Schindlers in a negative way about Mike…or any of the process, Mike was in charge. I was his advisor, there were no other lawyers involved at that time because there was no need for it. The Schindlers were peripherally involved, and mourning, particularly Mary, and it was a perfectly routine motion. And there was no need to give notice to anybody.
LYNN VINCENT: So it was only in hindsight, after the conflict, that it tended to look to them to be nefarious…?
DAN GRIECO: Exactly. Exactly. And, and I think it was put in their minds by other people, in all honesty, they were not proactive. I'm not saying that in a negative way. But you know, they couldn't be running around all, you know, three people trying to figure out what to do. Mike had a…had a plan. He didn't want to hear that it was irreversible. And there was no way for her to ever recover in any meaningful way.
LYNN VINCENT: When you say Mike had a plan, you mean like a rehabilitation plan?
DAN GRIECO: Yes. Yes. Yes. And to try everything and anything, no matter where it was, or, and, and the Schindlers we're not really involved in in those decisions, which is the right thing, the right thing. I mean, this is a very, this was very routine. That case, nobody else in the country or even in the county would have known about it or given one wit about it. I mean, this doesn't happen every day but you know, people go into comas, people have cardiac arrests, and they still survive, there was no discussion of money. Money was not an issue at that point. You know, I was working pro bono. I wasn't expecting a fee. And I didn't get a fee. I was doing it because we love the guy, and her too…
Early on, Grieco had suggested pursuing a malpractice lawsuit. For more on this, listen to Episode 4: For Love or Money?
Months after Terri’s brain injury, Michael did file suit—with Terri herself as a named plaintiff. The suit named two doctors as respondents. Terri’s OBGYN, Dr. Stephen Igel, and her general practitioner, Dr. Prawer. On Terri’s behalf, Michael claimed that Terri had been suffering from a secret eating disorder-and that both doctors failed to detect it. At first, both Igel and Prawer denied this claim.
DAN GRIECO: At some point, I'd say still in in 1990….we were going to have to have, as I said, a neurologist or somebody come in and try to disclaim what they were saying, on their side, which was probably right, I told Mike that I had a good friend who in some areas of the law was kind of a mentor to me…
LYNN VINCENT: And that was Woodworth, Glen Woodworth,
DAN GRIECO: Glen Woodworth.
Grieco first met Woodworth after the two both completed service as captains in the United States army. After the service, Woodworth went into private law practice and ran for judge…before earning a reputation as a malpractice expert. If you were a plaintiff in greater Tampa Bay, he was the guy you wanted to hire.
After suggesting the malpractice suit, Grieco told Michael that he had to move fast:
DAN GRIECO: All of this happened in a very compressed period of time. We were hard up against the termination of the malpractice statute you have to file a claim within two years…In this state, I think as most states, you have to within the two years, you have to send a Notice of Intent to sue the doctor. And you have to have an affidavit from a professional in the same specialty, sign an affidavit to say that this doctor acted below the standard of care in the community in which he practices, which would be basically Tampa Bay area….so you have to do those things first, and find that doctor that's willing to do that, then you can file the lawsuit.
DAN GRIECO: So that's the reason I went to see Glenn…I had no idea that they would eventually be able to cobble together a case against those doctors. I mean, the case …had no notoriety at that, at that point.
LYNN VINCENT: Yeah, just just a couple of local newspaper stories, asking people to help raise funds.
DAN GRIECO: That was it. That was it…So I went to Glenn, and we spent two or three hours together going over what little bit we had.
But trying to win money in a malpractice suit takes, well…money.
DAN GRIECO: He told me first and then I think he told the Schindlers and told Michael that he thought it would be a highly expensive case, and to try to direct it towards those two doctors, or either one of those two doctors would be too difficult, because these are very expensive cases.
LYNN VINCENT: What makes them so expensive, the experts that you have to hire?
DAN GRIECO: Yes, depositions, experts; doctors want, you know, two $3,000 to take their deposition. And in this case, you had, you had dueling, dueling doctors, you know, on both sides. But you have to take the depositions of the other doctor to see what they're going to say. Those depositions take a day or two days, then transcriptions, then research. And it ended up costing, I don't know exactly what, but it was tens of thousands of dollars, by the time this case was tried.
LYNN VINCENT: Tens of thousands of pro bono dollars up front, well, well, I guess not pro bono, it would be paid out of the settlement…
DAN GRIECO: If there was a settlement. So you gotta… you gotta make a decision. If it's worth the outlay for an outcome, that's not going to be good.
LYNN VINCENT: So it sounds like maybe Glenn was saying, maybe we're not going to be successful here.
DAN GRIECO: Yes. Yes.
LYNN VINCENT: Okay.
DAN GRIECO: Yes, only because to try to connect it to the two doctors was a stretch. And I frankly, thought it was too. But I went in there to see if he could make that connection. So it wasn't long after that, that he called me and told me, and he had already told them that he didn't feel that that they could go forward
LYNN VINCENT: That must have did Michael say anything he must have that must have been a punch in the gut.
DAN GRIECO: Well, it was. You know, everything was a punch in the gut at that point.
Even today, Grieco says the malpractice suit against Drs. Igel and Prawer was a long shot…but it was the last chance to get the money to take care of Terri.
DAN GRIECO: Yeah, there wasn't anywhere else to get resources to take care of her if she was going to survive or to allow her to, to thrive in this condition and maybe, maybe improve, but so Glenn calls me and said, I've consulted with Gary Fox who I don't know, didn't know, I think I met him once or twice during this…this deal.
Fox was a superstar lawyer out of Miami with a big reputation, and for good reason. He was a winner—in part because he was an ace at picking juries.
DAN GRIECO: We have six man juries here in those types of cases. And so you've got to appeal to six people. And this is a complex case. So when you pick a jury, and Gary, I believe is masterful at that picking a jury— to find people who are going to be able to, for the first time in their life—maybe look at medical, a complex medical issues, as well as financial issues, as well as in our system putting a value on if they find that the doctors did something improper. So that in itself, I think Gary, was masterful
LYNN VINCENT: At selecting the jury.
DAN GRIECO: Yes. This is six people that instead of saying I don't understand it, so you know, let's give her $500…Yeah, I'm exaggerating. But that, you know, the jury system is strange, because you go through that voir dire picking a jury and you don't know if they're telling you the truth, you don't know if they're saying, I don't like Michael, you know, for some obscure reason. This jury was the most amazing jury, as far as the result is concerned, one of the most I've ever seen.
LYNN VINCENT: Were you in the courtroom when Michael gave his testimony?
DAN GRIECO: No, no.
Michael’s testimony was emotional. In fact, he broke down in tears on the witness stand. In the next episode of Lawless, you’ll hear some of that testimony for yourself—testimony that would seem to conflict with what Michael did next.
I’d like to ask Michael about that...
AMBI: PHONE RINGING
I got his cell number from a private investigator.
LYNN: LEAVING MESSAGE
I’m still waiting for that call.
The Point Five is a series within the series that takes you deeper into the Terri Schiavo case with in-depth interviews and zero spin. To listen to upcoming editions of The Point Five, visit LawlessPodcast.com and subscribe.
Lawless is a production of WORLD Radio. Our executive producer is Paul Butler. Our production assistant is Lillian Hamman. Lillian also writes our Point Five episodes. Music by Will Shehan. Audio support from Creative Genius Productions. Lawless is reported and written by Anna Johansen Brown, Bonnie Pritchett, and me, Lynn Vincent.
(in order of appearance)
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