Mr. Eldridge, please tell me about your educational background and that of your partners.
Eldridge: I am a graduate of Trinity Law School in Santa Ana. I also received a masters degree from Simon Greenleaf University in International Human Rights. I was able to study at the International Institute of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France and I wrote a mini-thesis on the right to die in the context of international human rights… whether or not a “right to die” should be recognized. I have been very interested and impassioned about pro-life issues through school. I am on the board of a non-profit group called Alliance for Life International, which is a non-governmental, educational organization addressing right-to-life issues in the context of international human rights. Bob Tyler and Larry Dorsa both graduated from the University of San Diego School of Law, where Larry wrote an extensive study on abortion and the pro-life movement.
Did you see your education as ordered to work in the pro-life field?
Eldridge: Yes, I did. Our firm practices predominantly in business, real estate, probate and estate planning; both transactional and litigation. Personally I’m involved, for the most part, in business and real estate. So that’s the bread and butter of the firm. We’re also involved with the Life Legal Defense Foundation and other non-profit organizations like the Alliance Defense Fund and The American Center for Law Justice (ACLJ), Jay Sekulow’s group. We have recently filed a case with the ACLJ in Federal Court in Glendale. The ACLJ is involved in pro-life work, as well as equal access and religious freedom cases. So, we’re pretty active—our constitutional work spans the whole gamut.
How did you get involved with Life Legal Defense Foundation?
Eldridge: I had a case just over a year ago with a fifteen-year-old girl who was pregnant and her parents were trying to force her to get an abortion. She went to one of the crisis pregnancy centers here in Temecula—and through some connection got my name and asked if I’d be willing to help. I said, “I’ll certainly do whatever I can.” I then called David Llewellyn in Sacramento—he was one of my professors at Trinity—and he gave me Dana Cody ’s name. I called Dana—that was my first contact with Life Legal—and we spent some time on the phone strategizing. The pregnant minor’s boyfriend was sixteen—they were just kids. His aunt took them in and obtained a temporary restraining order against the parents of the girl, and then we came in and were ready to represent her in the hearing on the preliminary injunction against the parents.
Why did she need a TRO against the parents?
Eldridge: The father was threatening two things. First, he was threatening to literally drag her to an abortion clinic and force her to have an abortion. He also threatened her physically—that he would beat her and cause a miscarriage. My partner, Bob Tyler, and I didn’t agree entirely about this case. There were some difficult issues. Tyler: The case pitted the pro-life position against parental rights. We obviously supported and applauded the young girl’s decision not to have an abortion. However, we generally want to support a parent’s right to act as a parent and we don’t want to undermine those God-given parental rights in the courts.
Eldridge: As it turned out, the court granted a limited injunction against the parents but wouldn’t grant the girl’s tear-filled plea to remove her from her parents’ custody. Immediately after the hearing, she ran away. The kids went to Mexico and were married, but shortly thereafter she suffered a miscarriage. That was our first involvement with Life Legal. We used the California Supreme Court case American Academy of Pediatrics v. Lungren, (1997) 16 Cal.4th 307, 336-337, which allows a minor to get an abortion without parental consent. Even though that was a bad ruling, it helped us here because the Supreme Court held “that a minor who is pregnant has a protected privacy interest under the California Constitution in making the decision whether to continue or to terminate her own pregnancy. . . .”And the trial court in our case at least agreed in part with that holding.
The most recent pro-life case we have been involved with was the Dr. Anderson case. He was a retired university professor from U.C. Riverside, 90-plus years old. He was admitted to a hospital in Riverside by his daughter and a “nothing by mouth” order was issued by the hospital. Some of his friends visited him and he was very coherent, indicated that he wanted to eat and wanted to drink and the hospital was not giving him anything. His friends were concerned that he was being starved to death. He’d been placed in the hospital by his daughter, who we later learned had power of attorney for health care. She and her brother were his sole heirs and apparently he had accumulated some wealth. There were a number of issues that were fishy.
Dana Cody put out a call, and we responded because we’re right in the neighborhood. That afternoon, just before 5:00, we put in a call to the Probate Court in Riverside and requested an ex parte hearing the next morning, based on the new California Probate Code section 4770 (operative July 1, 2000) which allows virtually anyone to go in and request the court grant a temporary order prescribing patient care. In this case, that Dr. Anderson would at least temporarily be given food and water so that his wishes and his best interests could be determined at a later hearing.
I spent three or four hours on the phone that night with professors who were friends of his, professional people, not at all fanatical, but legitimately concerned about their friend. We prepared all the documentation, the declarations of these professors and the ex parte application requesting the court grant a temporary order prescribing care for Dr. Anderson. The next morning, having obtained their signatures on the declarations at the University, I was literally on my way out the door when I received a phone call that Dr. Anderson had passed away at seven that morning. It was very, very discouraging.
Did you know how long he had been without food and water?
He passed away on a Friday. His friends had visited him the Saturday before, so he had been many days without food and water. Once he died, we had no standing to go in and object to how he had been treated. We talked to the District Attorney’s office and other places to voice our concerns, but ran into dead ends everywhere. We gave all the facts to the Riverside County Elder Abuse Center. They said, “We’ve taken all the facts and it will be in the file, but there’s nothing else we can do.” The problem was, nobody knew, or would give us, all of the facts surrounding the situation. The hospital would give us no information. Dr. Anderson was checked in under a “Doe” name—not under his real name— which was strange. I tried to get the press involved. They were not interested because there was such a void of information. And we ran into the attitude that “he was ninety-two and had a good life and wasn’t in a lot of pain so just let it go. . . .”
One might think dying of thirst was pretty painful? Right, but the attitude was he wasn’t going to live that much longer anyway so what’s the big deal. Unfortunately, the same general lack of respect we see for the pre-born is increasing with respect to the elderly.