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Originally Published Tuesday, July 17, 2001

Court petition seeks information on Wendland's health

By Nancy Price

Record Staff Writer

The mother and sister of Robert Wendland are asking the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Sacramento to release information about Wendland's apparently deteriorating medical condition and to regain unrestricted visiting privileges.

A petition for an emergency writ was filed Monday morning by attorney Janie Hickok Siess on behalf of Florence Wendland and Rebekah Vinson, Robert Wendland's mother and sister.

Siess said she hoped the appellate court would rule immediately on the writ.

"This is an emergency. They know it's a matter of life or death," she said.

The petition comes only a few days after San Joaquin Superior Court Judge Bob McNatt denied a motion by Siess to release information on Robert Wendland's health status, to allow a neurologist hired by Florence Wendland to examine her son, and to allow both women visiting access to Wendland at Lodi Memorial Hospital.

In addition, if Robert Wendland dies, the petitioners asked the appellate court to require an autopsy before he is cremated.

Wendland suffered major head injuries in a drunken-driving auto accident in 1993 and has been hospitalized since, unable to feed or care for himself.

He is the focus of a bitter and public legal battle over his care that has pitted family member against family member. His wife, Rose Wendland, acting as his conservator, had sought to have a feeding tube removed from her husband because he had earlier stated that he would not want to remain alive under such circumstances. Robert Wendland did not put his wishes in writing, however.

Florence Wendland, claiming that her son has shown signs of alertness and has responded to her presence, filed suit to keep her son on a feeding tube.

The case is now before the California Supreme Court, which is expected to render a decision within the next 30 days.

James Braden, a court-appointed attorney representing Robert Wendland, said he was served a copy of the emergency writ Monday afternoon and was preparing a response to submit to the court.

"We're going to tell the 3rd District that there's no basis in the law for what they are asking for," Braden said. "Basically they're trying to refight a fight they lost four years ago."

Florence Wendland was informed in early June by Lodi Memorial personnel that only she could visit her son, but only in his room, and that daughter Rebekah Vinson would have to remain outside in the parking lot.

Attorney Lawrence Nelson, who represents Rose Wendland, said Saturday that Robert Wendland had to remain in his room because of illness. Nelson could not be reached for comment Monday.

Robert Wendland's medical condition appears to be worsening, Florence Wendland stated in the writ filed Monday. On a visit Saturday to her son, Florence Wendland noted that he was weaker, less able to respond to her voice or squeeze her hand, his breathing even more labored than previously, and morphine was being administered through an IV drip.

Meanwhile, Vinson saw brother-in-law Michael Hofer in the hospital parking lot and complained about being barred from the hospital. According to the legal petition, "Hofer advised Rebekah that he intended to speak with Rose and attempt to dissuade her from barring Robert's family members from the hospital so that they would be given a chance to visit Robert and 'say their good-byes.' "

Rose Wendland declined Monday to comment on the new legal filing or on Robert Wendland's condition.

Siess said Florence Wendland saw her son Monday morning and his condition appeared the same as Saturday.

* To reach reporter Nancy Price, phone 546-8276 or e-mail