Eric Brody is a young man in a wheelchair the past 14 years because of a collision with a Broward County sheriff's deputy. Rachel Hoffman of Clearwater died as a police informer during a botched 2008 drug sting. William Dillon of Satellite Beach spent 27 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. This month, the Florida Legislature finally agreed to try to right the wrongs done to them by government. But dozens more victims are not so lucky, suffering a second time at the hand of government because they didn't have high-powered friends. This is not justice.
During the recently completed annual session, legislators approved $40 million in compensation for 11 victims of government incompetence or neglect, including Brody, Hoffman and Dillon. Florida's "sovereign immunity" law requires the Legislature to approve court awards against government bodies in excess of $200,000. The result for most victims is years of treading the halls of the Capitol, often in vain, for justice woefully delayed. In any given year, it's the claims bills for victims who have hired lawyers and savvy Tallahassee lobbyists that have the best chance to succeed.
Take the case of Jennifer Wohlgemuth, a brain-damaged Pasco County woman awarded $8.7 million by a judge after she crashed with a speeding police officer three years ago. But with no lawyer or lobbyist working on her behalf, Wohlgemuth's claim continues to languish.
There have been attempts in the past to replace Florida's confusing, inequitable, politicized claims process. Lawmakers tried in 2008 to streamline the process, for example, for prisoners exonerated of their crimes. But that still left Dillon walking the halls of the Capitol to plead his case. It's time to try again. Broken bodies and hearts already victimized once by government should not have to bear a second indignity of legislative foot-dragging.