Lawson files compensation bills in Hoffman, Darling deaths
By Bill Cotterell • Florida Capital Bureau Political Editor • August 5, 2009
Open-ended claims have been filed to pay damages in the slaying of an informant killed during a botched drug sting
last year and hundreds of "White House Boys" who endured abuse as juveniles in state custody.
State Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, expressed slight optimism Tuesday about prospects for his bills seeking
compensation for Rachel Hoffman, the confidential informant killed May 7, 2008, and Devaughn Darling, the football
player who collapsed at an FSU gym in 2001.
Lawson said the city of Tallahassee should negotiate a settlement "around $5 million or above" with Irv Hoffman and
Marjorie Weiss, the young woman's parents. He said a jury verdict might run $8 million to $10 million if the case goes
Attorney Lance Block, representing the family, said he's not optimistic about the city negotiating in the ongoing
wrongful death lawsuit.
Attorney Lance Block, representing the family, said city officials said at a press conference last fall that they would be
"forthright and accountable" in the case. "So far, that hasn't happened, but this claims bill gives an opportunity for
them to be accountable," he said.
Lawson sponsored a Hoffman claims bill last year but got no hearing, so it was re-introduced for the 2010 session.
Hoffman, who was facing drug charges herself, was sent to buy drugs and a weapon from two men, but police lost
track of her during the deal. The two men targeted in the sting, Andrea Green and Deneilo Bradshaw, are awaiting
trial on murder charges for her fatal shooting.
Sen. Arthenia Joyner, a Tampa Democrat, has sponsored a claims bill for the "White House Boys," hundreds of
juveniles who were abused at the state juvenile detention facility near Marianna from the 1940s through the 1960s.
Many have joined in a class-action suit against the state, which Joyner seeks to settle with a claims bill.
Like the Hoffman bill, her proposal contains no dollar amount but directs the state to pay whatever is negotiated with
The Senate this year adopted a policy of not passing claims bills unless amounts were settled, either in court or by
negotiation, and were covered by city or county money. A spokeswoman for Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North
Palm Beach, said the policy has not changed for next year.
Lawson said, however, he would meet with Atwater to see if he could move some of the 30 claims bills now on file in
the Senate for next year.
The state negotiated a $2 million settlement with Dennis Darling and Wendy Smith, parents of the FSU player who
died Feb. 21, 2001. The state paid the $200,000 allowed by its sovereign immunity law, but the other $1.8 million has
remained unpaid for years.
"This should be settled because FSU has agreed that it was negligent," said Lawson. "They're not fighting it."
And despite the state's dismal budget outlook, which makes payment of legal claims against the state politically
difficult, a $1.8 million settlement for a Florida State University football player is also back for debate in next year's
legislative session. That one has languished in the Legislature for nearly eight years, despite FSU's willingness to
Senior writer Jennifer Portman contributed to this story.