The state has agreed to pay $5 million to settle claims arising out of the 2011 death of 10-year-old Nubia Barahona and the horrific injuries suffered by her twin brother, Victor, at the hands of their adoptive parents.
But there’s a catch.
The Florida Department of Children & Families already has paid $1.25 million to Nubia’s estate and to Victor to repair the deep psychological wounds he suffered even before he was found near death alongside his sister’s decomposing body in their adopted father’s pesticide van on Interstate 95 in West Palm Beach.
However, to get the remaining $3.75 million, agency officials told those representing the children they must get the historically tight-fisted state Legislature to approve.
Further, the parents accused of killing Nubia are first in line for some of the payout.
State lawmakers this year ignored a bill that would have authorized the $3.75 million payment.
“We hope that the new Senate and House leadership will show more compassion,” said Coral Gables attorney Neal Roth, who negotiated the settlement.
The bill, that has been filed again in the Senate, recounts the “systematic failure” of DCF over six years to investigate reports of the brutality that punctuated the twins’ lives during the six years they lived with Jorge and Carmen Barahona.
Only after Nubia’s death, the bill says, did an investigation finally reveal that the children routinely were choked, beaten, forced to eat cockroaches and food that contained feces and forced to watch as plastic bags were placed over each others’ heads.
While the sought-after payment will come too late to help Nubia, the money from her estate can be used to help Victor and two other children the Barahonas adopted who also endured similar abuse, Roth said. DCF quietly agreed to the settlement in 2013.
But even discounting the vagaries of capitol politics, he said there are myriad legal hurdles in the way of assuring Victor and his two surviving adoptive siblings get the money.
As Nubia’s legal parents at the time of her death, by law, the Miami couple would inherit any money in her estate. However, because both are charged with first-degree murder and are facing the death penalty for causing her death, the state’s “Slayer Statute” would bar them from collecting any of the cash.
Even if they are acquitted by a jury in Miami-Dade County, a civil lawsuit could be filed against them, claiming they were responsible for her death. If successful, that, too, would block them from getting any of the money, Roth said.
“First we must deal with the Barahonas,” he said.
Those who have dealt with the Legislature on what are known as “claims bills” said getting the $3.75 million will be an uphill task. By law, governmental agencies are protected from paying more than $200,000 for wrongdoing unless the Legislature agrees to lift the cap.
In the past two years, under the leadership of Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, the chamber has refused to hear any claims bills. Some have been languishing for years.
It is likely that the bill filed on behalf of Nubia and Victor won’t be the last. Roth and attorney Todd Falzone this month filed lawsuits on behalf of the two other children the Barahonas adopted. Both attorneys said they had hoped DCF would agree to settle the cases, as they did for Victor and Nubia, before the lawyers were forced to file lawsuits.
“I am mystified by their behavior,” Roth said. “Are they so caught up in all the bad things that continue to happen that they’re not focused on [these lawsuits]? They should make this right as part of their efforts to get their house in order.”