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Justice denied to Florida men after lawmakers quarrel

Eric Brody, shown with parents Charles and Sharon Brody, was paralyzed in a Broward Sheriff’s Office crash.

Breanne Gilpatrick Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau (2009)

Eric Brody, shown with parents Charles and Sharon Brody, was paralyzed in a Broward Sheriff’s Office crash.

TALLAHASSEE — Eric Brody and his parents arrived in the state Capitol at 10 a.m. Friday, waiting for lawmakers to sign off on a special act to compensate the 31-year-old man for a Broward Sheriff's Office crash that paralyzed him 13 years ago.

They left empty-handed after midnight, caught in the gamesmanship between the Florida House and Senate that threw the annual legislative session into overtime in dramatic fashion.

The clock ran out for the House to take up a measure that would have allowed Brody to collect $12 million from the Broward Sheriff's Office and its insurance company — and a bill to compensate $810,000 to William Dillon, a Brevard County man who served 27 years in prison for a murder and rape he did not commit.

Why? All bills not related to the budget were withdrawn from consideration when the session was extended into the wee hours of Saturday morning.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos, who had championed the Dillon bill but previously not weighed in at length about the Brody measure, was near tears when he spoke to reporters about Brody and Dillon at 1:17 a.m. He again brought them up on the Senate floor.

"For the last couple of days, Eric Brody thought he was getting justice," Haridopolos told his chamber before the Senate adjourned at 3:35 a.m. "Politics got in the way today, and I'm embarrassed for it."

Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, asked the senators to take a symbolic vote on Brody's and Dillon's claims as a show of support and a promise to take up their causes next session. The voting board glowed with green squares — a unanimous "yes."

On Thursday, the Senate had signed off on SB 42, the bill for Brody, who was 18 at the time of the crash. A jury awarded Brody more than $30 million in compensation, but to collect more than $200,000 from a government entity requires special approval from the state Legislature.

The Brody bill became one of the most heavily lobbied of what are known as claims bills. The proposal, which has had different incarnations over the years, was long opposed by the Broward Sheriff's Office and its insurance company.

The company formerly known as Ranger Insurance was represented this year by Peter Antonacci, a lobbyist with the firm Gray Robinson — the former employer of House Speaker Dean Cannon.

Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti sent Cannon, R-Winter Park, a letter Friday in support of the latest, compromise version of the bill.

But the House, fearing last-minute political machinations by the Senate, spent much of Friday in recess, without taking up a long list of bills that must now wait for passage at least another year.

"We had a day that nobody expected would have gone the way it did," said Rep. James Grant, the Tampa Republican who sponsored the bill in the House. "As difficult as it is, we know we did everything in our power to get it done. We intended to take it up. … At 11:59, I was ready."

Brody, in a wheelchair, took a spot with his parents, Charles and Sharon, in the House visitors' gallery not long after the House took a midnight recess. They had thought this year would be different.

"I thought this was the year. Absolutely," Charles Brody said.

"It's a shame," said Lance Block, the family's attorney. "Eric Brody may have gotten caught in the procedural cross fire."

Patricia Mazzei can be reached at pmazzei@MiamiHerald.com.

.Fast facts

Some claims prevail

Claims bills often fail in the Legislature, but some get paid.

2008: Alan Crotzer, wrongly imprisoned for 24 years, received $1.25 million. Crotzer was convicted in 1982 of raping two women during a Tampa robbery but was exonerated by DNA evidence.

2007: The family of Martin Lee Anderson received $5 million. Anderson, 14, lost his life in a Panama City prison boot camp in 2006, after an attack by guards that was videotaped.

2005: Wilton Dedge, imprisoned 22 years on charges of sexual battery, aggravated battery and burglary, received $2 million. The Brevard County man also was cleared by DNA evidence.

Justice denied to Florida men after lawmakers quarrel 05/07/11 [Last modified: Saturday, May 7, 2011 10:28pm]
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