Negligence Claims Bills Sent to Florida Governor’s Desk

By | March 12, 2012

A claims bill that would pay $2.4 million to the parents of murdered Tallahassee police informant Rachel Hoffman went to Gov. Rick Scott after a final vote Friday in the Florida Senate.

The measure (HB 7131) will allow the city to compensate Irving Hoffman and Marjorie Weiss, who watched the 33-3 roll call from the Senate gallery, for the death of their 23-year-old daughter during a botched drug sting in 2008.

The recent Florida State University graduate was recruited for the operation after she was caught with marijuana and pills for which she didn’t have a prescription. The two perpetrators were convicted and are serving life sentences.

Lawmakers also previously passed “Rachel’s Law,” establishing guidelines for the use of undercover informants that would have prevented her from participating had they been in effect.

“We put two bad people in jail for the rest of their life,” Irving Hoffman said. “They’re not going to hurt anybody. We had Rachel’s Law passed to help thousands of people like Rachel. The city of Tallahassee has taken accountability and responsibility for this, finally.”

The city agreed to settle for $2.6 million as a lawsuit was set to go to trial in January, but the most that could be paid under Florida law was $200,000 without passage of a claims bill.

“It’s a relief because we don’t have to keep rehashing my daughter’s death, which is really painful,” Weiss said. “For me it’s not over.”

She said she’s still waiting for an apology from Ryan Pender, the lead investigator in the sting operation. He was fired as a result, but he appealed and an arbitrator ordered the city to reinstate him.

The bill languished until the legislative session’s last day due to a dispute over how much in legal and lobbying fees could be paid from the award. The Senate wanted to permit more but ultimately agreed to a House amendment capping the fees at $270,000 but allowing additional payment for court-related costs.

“The issue all week has been fees, attorney fees, which I’m a little ashamed of, but I’m not a voting member,” said Lance Block, the lawyer who handled the case for Hoffman and Weiss. “We said `absolutely, we’ll take a hit on the fees if that’s what it takes to the bill passed.”‘

It was one of four high-profile claims bills that passed during the session.

The others compensated: William Dillon for 27 years he spent in prison for a murder he didn’t commit; 14-year-old Aaron Edwards who suffers from cerebral palsy and other injuries due to negligence at his birth by Lee County’s hospital system; and 32-year-old Eric Brody who was left brain-damaged and paralyzed when a speeding Broward County sheriff’s deputy, who was late for work, crashed into his car.

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