More than four years after a Palm Beach County jury ordered the Florida Department of Children & Families to pay $5 million to a former Wellington boy who was sexually assaulted by a foster child whom the state department placed in his home, state lawmakers have finally agreed to pay up.
In a bill that is now headed to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk, the Florida Legislature last week agreed to pay the victim, now a 24-year-old man identified only as C.M.H., the money that the jury agreed he will need for psychological help for the rest of his life.
“I’m over the moon that he’s going to have access to the funds he needs to get counseling,” said attorney Stephan LeClainche, who represented the youth during the emotional month-long trial in 2013
Attorney Howard Talenfeld, who also represented the youth during the trial and helped shepherd the claims bill through the legislature, agreed.
“He’s struggling,” Talenfeld said of the young man, who now lives north of Tampa and is a maintenance worker at a golf course. “His life hasn’t progressed. He’s just existing.”
If approved by Scott, the money will be placed in a trust, Talenfeld said. The money, less $1.3 million in attorneys fees and other costs, will be restricted so it can only be used for counseling, education and other related expenses, Talenfeld said.
By law, governments in Florida cannot pay more than $200,000 in legal judgments or settlements unless the Legislature agrees in a claims bill to pay more. At the time the youth, referred to in the trial as Junior, was sexually assaulted by the foster child, the limit for government payment was $100,000. Talenfeld said this year was the third time he asked lawmakers to lift the cap, allowing DCF to pay the money the jury said the young man deserves.
Junior was 8 years old in 2002 when his parents agreed to allow an abandoned boy from their neighborhood live with them. While DCF officials knew that sexual abuse that the 10-year-old neighbor had suffered had turned him into a predator, they never told Junior’s parents, according to trial testimony.
During the boy’s three-year stay, he squeezed Junior’s pet mouse to death, masturbated in front of him and forced Junior to perform sex acts during a twisted game of “Truth or Dare,” Junior told jurors. Ultimately, during an argument with the foster child, Junior told his parents about the abuse.
During the trial, DCF tried to blame Junior’s psychological ills on his mother’s 2006 death. But, the jury disagreed. They awarded Junior $10 million in damages. The award was cut in half because jurors also held Junior’s father 50 percent responsible for Junior’s ongoing mental health problems.