Judge Seeks Answers in Florida Domestic Violence Agency Cases
With several lawsuits on hold amid mediation, a Leon County circuit judge wants an update on the status of negotiations in the state’s attempt to recoup millions of dollars paid to former leaders of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Attorney General Ashley Moody and the Department of Children and Families in March 2020 began litigation against the nonprofit coalition, its former board of directors and former CEO Tiffany Carr after reports that Carr received compensation of at least $7.5 million over a three-year period. Carr’s compensation included more than $3.7 million in paid time off, according to court documents.
A judge last year appointed a receiver to represent the coalition, which in the past was in charge of dispersing more than $46 million a year in state, federal and private funds to domestic violence shelters throughout Florida.
The coalition’s compensation of Carr and other directors is the focus of at least a half-dozen lawsuits, including two involving insurance companies balking at covering defense fees and costs for the organization and its former executives.
The legal wrangling, however, has been on hold for months, as lawyers for Moody, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration, the insurers, receiver Mark Healy, Carr and the coalition’s other former leaders try to work out a settlement in the state’s attempt to claw back some compensation paid between 2016 and 2019.
Last fall, Leon County Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey ordered mediation --- at the behest of the state and the coalition’s former directors --- and set a Feb. 28 deadline for negotiations to conclude. Mediation was conducted on Jan. 6 and 7, according to court records.
Healy’s attorney, James Timko, three months ago asked Dempsey to extend other deadlines in the lawsuits, as the talks were still “progressing in good faith” beyond the February deadline.
“The parties have made significant progress and have not called an impasse to the mediation. Due to the complexity of the issues and the multiple parties involved, the parties are still conducting mediation discussions,” Timko wrote on March 26.
Dempsey in early April agreed to extend the deadlines, but on Thursday gave Moody’s office, the Department of Children and Families, the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Healy until Aug. 19 to “file a written case status report updating the court on the status of the mediation and the cases generally.”
“If the parties have completed mediation without settlement, the status report shall also state what needs to be done next to move the case forward. Failure to respond to this order may result in sanctions including dismissal of this case without further notice,” she wrote, noting that the legal challenges “have been pending for a little over a year.”
The early January mediation sessions are the only ones posted in court documents, but efforts to reach a settlement apparently remain active.
“The mediation is confidential so I can’t really say anything other than it is ongoing. No impasse has been filed,” Timko told The News Service of Florida on Monday.
The receivership racked up more than $637,000 in fees and expenses since a judge appointed Healy, an accountant, as receiver last year. Receiver-related costs from March 2020 to May 31, 2021, include more than $262,000 in legal fees and expenses, according to a monthly report filed by Healy on July 6.
The state’s lawsuits against Carr and the coalition’s board of directors don’t specify how much money Moody and the Department of Children and Families hope to get reimbursed.
Carr, who oversaw the coalition for nearly two decades, resigned in 2019 amid probes by the governor’s office and the Florida House into the coalition’s finances and reports of Carr’s multimillion-dollar compensation.
Carr maintains that the coalition’s directors approved her compensation and is seeking to have the lawsuits against her dismissed, arguing in court documents that she has done nothing wrong and that the state’s cases are based on “speculation and ambiguity.”
Revelations about the coalition and the compensation prompted the Legislature last year to repeal a longstanding law that required the state to contract with the organization, and, at DeSantis’ bidding, the Department of Children and Families terminated its contract with the nonprofit.
The state, meanwhile, is in the process of selecting new vendors to handle domestic-violence training and technical assistance, provide legal services and operate a statewide hotline.