Court battles continue over domestic violence agency
By Dara Kam
News Service of Florida
Florida’s attempt to recoup millions of dollars paid to Tiffany Carr, the former CEO of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, is inching along, as Carr and the agency’s ousted directors duke it out in court with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration, Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office and two insurance companies.
Carr is at the center of at least a half-dozen lawsuits surrounding her compensation of at least $7.5 million over a three-year period, including more than $3.7 million in paid time off, according to court documents.
In two lawsuits filed in March, Moody’s office and the Department of Children and Families accused Carr and the coalition of “exorbitant” compensation from 2016 through 2019.
The bitter legal battle is focused on the state’s attempt to claw back some of the payments to Carr and other former coalition executives, with Leon County Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey last Tuesday giving the parties until Feb. 28 to reach a settlement.
Carr, who oversaw the nonprofit coalition for nearly two decades, resigned last year amid probes by the governor’s office and the Florida House into the coalition’s finances and reports of Carr’s multimillion-dollar compensation.
A judge appointed a receiver to represent the coalition, which in the past was in-charge of dispersing more than $46 million in state, federal and private funds to domestic violence shelters throughout Florida.
Receiver Mark Healy in June filed a separate lawsuit against Carr and the coalition’s former directors, also seeking an unspecified amount of money and accusing Carr of having “breached her fiduciary duties” to the agency by “paying herself excessive funds.”
Carr, however, maintains that the coalition’s directors approved her compensation and is asking the court to dismiss the lawsuits against her, saying that she has done nothing wrong and that the state’s cases are based on “speculation and ambiguity.”
During an at-times acrimonious hearing last Tuesday in the lawsuit filed by the receiver, James Timko, a lawyer for Healy, told Dempsey that he needs more information about Carr and her finances.
Timko highlighted a “bone of contention” about “where some of the money has gone and what it’s been used for,” adding “we think that providing that information would be extremely helpful in getting to an end to all this.”
Dempsey asked what Timko was hoping to obtain prior to mediation, which she ordered last Tuesday.
“What we had discussed was, really we wanted information as to the compensation received by Tiffany Carr and where, when and how much of it she still has,” Timko said.
Timko said that some of the funds may have been used for taxes and that he understood Carr has purchased “several large properties,” and that she is living in a North Carolina home worth “well over a million dollars.”
Timko indicated he wants to know whether some of the money is “sitting in a bank account, because there’s going to be questions not only of liability, a collectability, and also you know this was money that was provided by the state to support the domestic violence shelters” throughout the state.
“It’s a matter of the public trust, and I think it’s important to get the public’s trust and have an understanding of what this money was used for,” he told the judge.
But Carr’s lawyer, Christopher Kise, told Dempsey that Healy’s request was premature.
“What Mr. Timko is seeking is essentially post-judgment discovery,” Kise said.
“Right,” Dempsey agreed.
“He wants to skip over the part where he gets to prove his case,” Kise said, adding that Carr “would certainly be willing to provide information” if that would help facilitate a settlement during the mediation process.
“But the idea that we’re just going to give out information pre-mediation on where money went and how it was spent, I mean, ordinarily when you get paid, your compensation has been approved by a board and signed off on by accountants. You don’t have to, until a judgment is entered, actually explain how you spend it.”
The lawyers for Healy and Carr have also haggled over preservation of the coalition’s documents.
After the receiver last month said in a court document that he was “developing a plan” to consolidate records and “destroy the records that are no longer needed to save on storage costs,” Kise filed a motion asking the court to block Healy from getting rid of any documents.
But during last Tuesday’s hearing, Timko called the issue a “non-controversy,” because “nothing has been destroyed.”
The records “are filling up, I think, eight storage sheds,” he said.
“Your honor, there’s pamphlets, there’s records going back to 2009 that have literally nothing to do with this litigation,” Timko said. “Before any of these records get dealt with, we will seek approval of the court, so honestly I think their motion is moot.”
“Couldn’t I just enter an order saying what you just said, that you would seek my approval?” Dempsey asked.
“That’s what we want judge,” Kise said.
The legal wrangling also involves two insurers, Hanover Insurance Co. and Travelers Casualty and Surety Company of America. The coalition asked a court to force the companies to cover costs incurred by the other lawsuits, but the insurers are balking.
Liability policies that went into effect in December — after the House and governor’s office began digging into the coalition’s finances — included coverage for “defense expenses and the amount the insured is legally obligated to pay as a result of a claim,” according to excerpts of the contracts included in court documents.
Last Tuesday, Dempsey ordered mediation in non-insurance-related cases — referred to as the “merits” lawsuits — and gave the Department of Children and Families, Moody’s office, Healy, Carr and the coalition’s former board of directors until Feb. 28 to reach a settlement. Insurance-related lawsuits will proceed separately.