Florida's top child welfare official abruptly announced her retirement Friday, a day after a Pinellas judge fined her $80,000 for not moving mentally ill jail inmates to hospitals.
Lucy Hadi, secretary of the Department of Children and Families and a 30-year veteran of state government, did not mention the legal confrontation in a letter to Gov. Jeb Bush, saying only that "it is time for me to do my advocacy from a different place."
In an interview, Hadi said her decision was prompted by "an accumulation of things," not just the court action.
"I never wanted to be the punch drunk boxer in the ring not knowing when it was time to leave," said Hadi, 60. "You just know when it's time."
Her letter said she was willing to stay on the job until the end of January. Hadi said she told George LeMieux, chief of staff to Gov.-elect Charlie Crist, that she would leave sooner if that was wanted.
Hadi said she had not been offered the job of DCF secretary in Crist's administration.
Her announcement did nothing to ease the tensions between the state and a judge.
Pinellas Circuit Judge Crockett Farnell said Friday that he plans to study whether he can target Bush with fines or contempt charges.
"He's the one who drives the ship," Farnell told the St. Petersburg Times. "I need to have somebody to apply the pressure to. I will do whatever I have to do to get these guys some relief."
Farnell is out of line, said Kristy Campbell, a Bush spokeswoman. "If this is true, it's dramatic overreaching by the judge, and it is absolutely disappointing he is not even trying to remain objective or appear to remain objective."
Farnell said he was shocked by Hadi's retirement, but had no regrets about fining her or threatening to jail her.
"I don't know of any other way to get everybody's attention to understand what this situation is and what the conditions are like for these poor folks," he said.
Farnell fined Hadi, saying she failed to comply with his orders to move 10 inmates from the Pinellas jail to a state hospital and for missing a deadline to appeal.
Farnell said he didn't know if Hadi would still face the fines or contempt charges, or if a successor or second-in-command would.
When she was fined, Hadi already faced criminal contempt charges for keeping the inmates in jail longer than the 15 days Florida law allows.
At the time, the DCF had a waiting list for beds topping more than 300 people, leaving patients in jail for an average of three months.
After the contempt charges, the agency said it had found $5-million for more beds, but acknowledged that more funding was needed to remedy the problem.
Special session topic
House Democrats called Friday for the issue to be added to the agenda for the Legislature's special session in January. The session was called to deal only with property insurance.
Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender Bob Dillinger, whose office sought the recent rulings from Farnell, said he was sad to see Hadi step down. He believes Gov. Bush is more responsible for the problem than Hadi, who he suspects wanted more funding but was turned down by the governor's office.
"I think it's a shame that it had to happen to her when in reality, it's my belief that it's the governor's fault," Dillinger said.
"The governor's office tells agencies what they'll fund and won't fund. I have a feeling she was told 'you're not getting any more than this for beds,' " he said.
Campbell scoffed at that suggestion, saying Bush takes proposed budget requests from agencies and makes recommendations to the Legislature. She said that there was a $34-million increase in funding for mental health in the past fiscal year but that there was a corresponding increase in need, resulting in the bed shortage.
Dillinger said he had no regrets about pushing the issue.
"The problem had to be addressed. We had to do what we had to do," he said. "When people are pulling their eyes out because they're not getting treatment, something has to be done."
Hadi's work lauded
Bush issued a statement praising Hadi's service. "Through adoption, Medicaid reform and community-based care, Secretary Hadi has demonstrated a heart for the hurting and compassion for children in crisis."
Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, praised Hadi as a "fine public servant who has selflessly and tirelessly poured her heart and soul into improving our state."
Over the long arc of her career, Hadi worked for both Gov. Lawton Chiles, a Democrat, and Bush, a Republican. She worked in the state Senate as a staff member on the Ways and Means Committee, as chief of staff for Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings and as interim director of the state Agency for Workforce Innovation.
She had a previous stint with the agency she now runs, and it, too, ended in controversy. More than a decade ago, she was embroiled in a conflict involving a faulty computer system at the agency. A grand jury report said Hadi's actions "can only be considered improper and wrong." But she described her role as coming aboard at a bad time, and two years ago, Bush asked her to return and lead the DCF.
Alex Leary can be reached at 850-224-7263 or email@example.com. Chris Tisch can be reached at (727) 892-2359 or firstname.lastname@example.org
"If this is true, it's dramatic overreaching by the judge, and it is absolutely disappointing he is not even trying to remain objective or appear to remain objective."
Kristy Campbell, a spokeswoman for Gov. Bush, speaking of Pinellas Circuit Judge Crockett Farnell
"I don't know of any other way to get everybody's attention to understand what this situation is and what the conditions are like for these poor folks."
Pinellas Circuit Judge Crockett Farnell