VERDICT: Disfigured woman awarded $7 million in suit against Bethesda

A Palm Beach County jury has awarded more than $7 million to a Connecticut woman and her husband, who sued Bethesda Memorial Hospital for pain and disfigurement she endured when she was treated there a decade ago for a botched plastic surgery.

Jurors returned the verdict in favor of Cheryl Volenec after nearly eight hours of deliberation in the case beginning Thursday afternoon.

During a two-week trial that concluded Thursday, a Palm Beach County jury saw graphic photos of horrific scars Volenec carries as a result of a 2006 plastic surgery that went horribly awry.

Cheryl and Randolph Volenec leave the courtroom at the Palm Beach County Courthouse on April 18, 2016. The couple is suing Bethesda Medical Center for their actions following botched plastic surgery that was performed by Dr. Mark Schreiber ten years ago. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)
Cheryl and Randolph Volenec outside a Palm Beach County courtroom last week. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

The jurors heard arguments about how Bethesda Memorial Hospital should pay the 70-year-old Connecticut woman $5 million because it didn’t spare her from both the agony she endured and the disfigurement that turned both her back and belly into a mass of scar tissue.

But, it didn’t hear that Dr. Mark Schreiber, who performed the 7 1/2-hour surgery in his Boynton Beach office, later in 2006 lost his medical license. They weren’t told he served roughly two years in prison for botching other surgeries and is now in the Broward County jail awaiting trial on criminal charges for practicing medicine without a license and leaving a Miami man severely deformed.

Circuit Judge Cheryl Caracuzzo ruled that such evidence was so damning it would unfairly prejudice jurors.

Still, the jury concluded that Schriber was 60 percent responsible for Volenec’s injuries, pain and suffering – making the hospital liable for 40 percent of the damages they awarded.

In all, the awarded her nearly $6.7 million for past, present and future damages. They awarded her husband, Randolph another $1 million for his suffering, and for having to be responsible for her treatment and care.

In closing arguments, attorney Barbara Sonneborn insisted Bethesda nurses and doctors did nothing wrong after Volenec arrived in the emergency room near death. She had lost half of the blood she needed to keep her organs operating properly.

“Dr. Schreiber is responsible for the injury to Mrs. Volenec,” she said. “If she hadn’t come to Bethesda, she would have died from blood loss.”

Attorney Raul Garcia countered that Schreiber did nothing wrong when he tightened sagging skin left from a “full body liposuction” he had performed on Volenec a year earlier. Had hospital administrators called a plastic surgeon to treat incisions on Volenec’s back, stomach, legs and buttocks, the skin wouldn’t have died, he said.

“She needed to be seen and cared for by a plastic surgeon,” he said. “Everyone from the nursing staff, to the treating physician, to the risk manager, to the CEO of the hospital knew Cheryl Volenec needed a plastic surgeon’s care and they did nothing to provide that care.

“This is a case of inaction,” he continued. “This is a case of people not doing what they knew was right. While they were waiting, these massive surgical flaps started dying.”

But, Sonneborn countered, Volenec’s wounds were already beyond hope. “There is nothing a plastic surgeon would or could have done at Bethesda that would have made a difference in the outcome,” she said. “All of the damage occurred before she arrived at Bethesda.”

Schreiber, she said, should be held responsible.

When Schreiber didn’t respond to the lawsuit, Volenec technically got a judgment against him. But, court officials have said he has no money. While the jurors could hold him responsible for Volenec’s injuries, she couldn’t recover any money.

Volenec’s husband, Randolph, is also seeking damages for emotional pain. He was working as an architect in Miami when his wife had the surgery at Schreiber’s office.

 

Corey Jones family leery, hopeful of grand jury probe

Clinton Jones Sr., Corey Jones' father, talks to the media outside the Palm Beach County  Courthouse Thursday morning, April 28, 2016.  (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
Clinton Jones Sr., Corey Jones’ father, talks to the media outside the Palm Beach County Courthouse Thursday morning, April 28, 2016. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

In an emotional press conference early Thursday, Corey Jones’ father, brother and sister reacted publicly to news that Palm Beach County state attorney Dave Aronberg will be bringing to a grand jury the case of the Palm Beach Gardens officer who shot and killed Jones last year.

The 31-year-old drummer’s father, Clinton Jones, Sr., told a group of reporters that he was holding Aronberg to assurances the top prosecutor gave him at a meeting Wednesday after announcing Nouman Raja’s case would be presented as part of the grand jury session that began in January and will end June 30. The father said Aronberg told him he believed the widely-criticized process would produce a just outcome in this case.

“It’s been a hard six months of waiting, waiting and waiting,” He was a good kid, and for something like this to have happened to him, I’m angry. I’m angry. It should never have happened.”

» RELATED: Timeline of the Corey Jones shooting

If the panel returns an indictment of any kind against Raja, it will be a switch from the outcome of grand juries that have weighed the cases of Tamir Rice, Eric Garner and Michael Brown – young black men killed in confrontations with police officers who were later cleared of wrongdoing.

Family Attorney Benjamin Crump told reporters that while Jones’ case is going to the grand jury, the process is one that is still very much in prosecutors’ control, saying that “

Though Aronberg told Jones’ family he would be involved in the grand jury process, two of his Chief Assistants, Brian Fernandes and Adrienne Ellis, will be the ones presenting evidence to the panel.

Jones’ sister, Melissa, said she was skeptical about the case going to a grand jury until the moment in their meeting with prosecutors where Ellis looked her in the eye and told her that she has a passion to pursue justice in the case.

“She said that without me asking,” Melissa Jones said. “And when I heard that, I said that’s what I needed to hear.”

Crump told reporters on Thursday details of the case he revealed exclusively to The Palm Beach Post late Wednesday, including the confirmation of the existence of an audio recording of the shooting. The recording was from a call Jones to AT&T Roadside Assistance minutes before Raja approached him in an unmarked van.

The call lasted 53 minutes, long enough to have potentially captured the confrontation, shooting and its aftermath.

As of Wednesday, Crump said, Jones’ family knew of two other important details based on their meetings with prosecutors.

First, although Crump stopped short of confirming that prosecutors told them that Raja claimed Jones shot at him, Crump said “we know that there were inconsistent statements made.”

“Hypothetically, if the allegation was that Corey Jones shot at him, we now know that is a bald-faced lie,” Crump said.

Secondly, Crump said, the family knows that Raja committed policy violations in the Oct. 18 shooting, when he approached Jones in plainclothes in an unmarked van as the drummer waited for a tow truck in the off-ramp of Interstate 95.

Despite prosecutors assurances, Crump – who has previously represented the family of slain teen Trayvon Martin – said on Wednesday that he would have been much more optimistic if Aronberg had exercised his power to file charges directly against Raja.

Raja’s attorney, Richard Lubin, said in a brief statement Wednesday that he and his client were “looking forward” to the grand jury process.

Jones’ brother, former NFL wide receiver Clinton “CJ” Jones, had hoped Aronberg would have directly filed charges against Raja. Absent that possibility, he said Thursday, his desire was simple:

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer Lulu Ramadan contributed to this report.

 

 

 

Port St. Lucie youth who beat parents to death gets chance for freedom

A Port St. Lucie man, who is serving two life sentences for bludgeoning his parents to death with a hammer in 2011 when he was 17, will have a chance to argue that he should one day be allowed to live outside prison walls.

Tyler Hadley
Tyler Hadley

As it has done for others convicted of committing heinous crimes when they were under 18, the 4th District Court of Appeal on Wednesday ruled Tyler Joseph Hadley, now 22, should benefit from a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision that outlawed life sentences without parole for juveniles. The youths deserve special consideration because their brains aren’t fully developed, act impetuously and they are amenable to rehabilitation, the high court ruled.

In response to the ruling, the Florida Legislature passed a law that allows life sentences for juveniles. But, a judge must make certain findings, the West Palm Beach-based court found.

Because Hadley was sentenced in 2014, before the law went into effect, 19th Judicial Circuit Judge Robert R. Makemson had no way of following it, the appeals court wrote. While crediting the judge for trying his best, it said he erred by justifying the life sentence by saying Hadley had a previously been convicted of a capital crime. There is no evidence of that, the court wrote. Further, Makemson was required to consider possible alternatives to a life sentence.

Almost apologetically, the appeals court wrote: “We are therefore compelled to reverse and remand for resentencing.” Under the law, the minimum sentence would be 40 years and any sentence would be reviewed after 25 years.

The murders attracted national attention because of their brutality and callousness. After killing his parents, Hadley had a keg party, locking their bloodied bodies in a bedroom.

Ohio couple sues PBC addiction treatment center over son’s suicide

An Ohio couple is suing a Palm Beach County drug and alcohol treatment center for negligence in the 2015 suicide death of their 17-year-old son.

IMG_0001In the lawsuit filed this month in Palm Beach County Circuit Court, Steven and Susan Ashford say they entrusted Singer Island Recovery Center with their troubled son, Isaac, only to have the agency violate that trust.

Roughly two weeks after Isaac was enrolled in the treatment program, the Cincinnati youth disappeared during a field trip, according to the wrongful death lawsuit filed by West Palm Beach attorney Scott Sweigart. The center, with offices near 45th Street and Congress Avenue, failed to report Isaac missing for at least two hours and then weren’t forthcoming about where he was when he disappeared.

Two days later after his disappearance, Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputies found the high school senior’s body in Royal Palm Beach. The medical examiner, who found drugs in his system, ruled the death a suicide, according to the lawsuit.

Officials at the center “should have known there was a high risk Isaac would attempt suicide” if not monitored closely, Sweigart wrote.

Officials from the center weren’t immediately available for comment.

Pair receive life sentences for rape of Delray Beach teens

Defendants Massillon Lherisson (above) and Francisco Henry (not pictured) sit in court today as a victim testified in the sexual assault case against the two men at the Palm Beach County Courthouse Monday, July 9, 2012.
Defendants Massillon Lherisson (above) and Francisco Henry (not pictured) sit in court today as a victim testified in the sexual assault case against the two men at the Palm Beach County Courthouse Monday, July 9, 2012.

Calling their actions “shocking” and “unspeakable,”a judge on Monday sentenced Francisco Henry and Massillon Lherisson to multiple life sentences in prison for forcing a group of Delray Beach teens into sex.

The sentence comes a month after jurors convicted the men in the 2010 robbery in an abandoned house where three boys and a girl were forced into sex with each other.

Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes announced the sentences after hearing from the father of one of the boys, as well as the female victim, who said she’s struggled to resume a normal life after the attack.

“I hope that they repented what they did because it’s not nice to be the one experience such acts and being forced to do the things that occurred,” she said. “I just hope that it doesn’t’ happen to them.”

Lherisson received 11 total life sentences, plus another 20 years in prison. Henry received five life sentences

 

John Goodman juror Dennis DeMartin’s case could be headed to high court

(Palm Beach Post staff file photo)
(Palm Beach Post staff file photo)

The case of the wayward juror held responsible for forcing a judge to throw out John Goodman’s DUI manslaughter conviction could soon be a matter for Florida’s Supreme Court.

Last week, on the heels of a 4th District Court of Appeal ruling affirming Dennis DeMartin’s contempt of court conviction and six month jail sentence, his lawyer filed a request to for them to send the case to Florida’s high court to address an issue the appellate court left unanswered.

“May a court sentence a defendant more harshly in order to ‘send a message’ to the community?” Assistant Public Defender Paul Petillo wants to ask the Supreme Court.

The question has been the center of the retired accountant’s appeal since January 2014, when Chief Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath sentenced the retired accountant to five months and 29 days in the Palm Beach County jail for a pair of missteps DeMartin had as a juror on the 2012 panel that convicted Goodman in the Feb. 12, 2010 death of Scott Patrick Wilson.

In two separate self-published books, DeMartin revealed he conducted his own, forbidden drinking experiment in the night before he and jurors began deliberating Goodman’s case and later disclosed that his ex-wife had once been arrested for DUI – a fact that prosecutors say would have surely kept him off the jury had he told them as required while he was a prospective juror.

Colbath when he sentenced DeMartin said he wanted to “send a message” to the community on the importance of honesty and integrity as jurors.

Petillo in his request to the appellate court last week reiterated his belief that it was improper for Colbath to base his sentence on that premise.

Assistant Attorney General Richard Valuntas, in a response filed Wednesday morning, said there’s nothing for the Supreme Court to consider because Colbath’s sentence was within the statutory limits.

“Nothing in the record shows appellant was actually sentenced more harshly in order to ‘send a message’ to the community,” Valuntas wrote, adding that courts in other jurisdictions have ruled that judges can use “the concept of general deterrence” when giving an offender a legal sentence.

Colbath cited DeMartin’s actions in 2013 as the reason he overturned Goodman’s first conviction and 16-year prison sentence. A second jury in October 2014 convicted Goodman again, and he is now in the second year of a 16-year sentence.

DeMartin now lives in New Haven, Connecticut, where he moved after serving a month of his sentence.

Malachi Love-Robinson, accused fake teen doctor, gets plea offer

Malachi Love-Robinson leaves court after a hearing Wednesday morning, April 20, 2016. The teen is accused of posing as a doctor, operating New Birth New Life Medical Center in West Palm Beach. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
Malachi Love-Robinson leaves court after a hearing Wednesday morning, April 20, 2016. The teen is accused of posing as a doctor, operating New Birth New Life Medical Center in West Palm Beach. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

Malachi Love Robinson, the teen arrested earlier this year for allegedly impersonating a doctor, was in court for a brief hearing Wednesday morning.

Assistant State Attorney Mike Rachel told Circuit Judge Krista Marx that he has offered Love-Robinson a 3-year prison, 5-year probation plea offer. Under criminal sentencing guidelines, Rachel told Marx, faces a recommended eight-year sentence if convicted of

Marx set a tentative trial date has been set for July, and set the case for a plea conference a month earlier in case Love-Robinson decides to take the deal.

His attorney, Andrew Stine, told Marx he needed at least 60 days to be ready for trial.

Love-Robinson was thrust into the spotlight and given national media attention — with appearances on “Good Morning America” and the “Today” show among others — after the state claimed he faked his medical licenses and posed as a doctor to patients.

He was first arrested Feb. 16 after an armed narcotics task force raided his alternative medicine practice, in a West Palm Beach medical building, after he gave medical advice to an undercover officer, officials said.

Love-Robinson was released from jail on $21,000 bond following the arrest. He went on to speak with several media outlets, including The Palm Beach Post, and denied all wrongdoing.

“I never pretended to be a medical doctor,” Love-Robinson said in February, adding that he referred to himself as “Doctor” because of his Ph.D. “Every person I met knew that my practice was for holistic medicine.”

Love-Robinson’s Ph.D. was from Universal Life Church Seminary, an online institution, according to documents released by the Florida Department of Health. According to the seminary’s website, anyone can buy a doctorate in divinity for $29.95, the same price as bachelor’s or a master’s of divinity degree.

In addition to the charges surrounding his alternative medicine practice, Love-Robinson also faces charges he stole more than $35,000 from a patient.

 

Six months after Corey Jones death, family seeks answers

By now, Clinton Jones Sr. said Monday, he thought he would know whether the police officer who shot and killed his son Corey six months ago would face criminal charges.

image
(Palm Beach Post staff)

Instead, prosecutors have told him that they are still in the end stages of a three-agency investigation into former Palm Beach Gardens officer Nouman Raja, the plainclothes officer who was still on probation when he had the deadly Oct. 18 encounter with the stranded 31-year-old motorist.

“I would think that by now they would have had enough time to do whatever they needed to do,” Clinton Jones, Sr. said Monday during a rally outside the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s office. “We’re going to keep fighting for justice, though, and we need all of you to fight with us.”

In the shadow of officer-involved shootings like the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and others, Jones’ case has garnered little national attention since the first few weeks after news broke of the popular professional drummer’s death.

Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg has urged the public to remain patient as his office, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI complete their investigation.

Jones’s father, his brother C.J. and others say they understand the investigation takes time, but in the meantime they struggle with unanswered questions surrounding Corey Jones’ death.

C.J. Jones, who said his daughters have built a deep resentment of police since their uncle’s death, made an appeal to law enforcement.

“We need the good cops to step up,” he said. “We need the good officers to come up, and help us get rid of these bad ones, so we can all protect the community together.”

Raja told investigators after the shooting that he was forced to fire on Jones because Jones came at him with a gun. Jones’ newly purchased gun, for which he had a permit, was found at some point between his broken down car and where his body came to rest.

Raja fired his gun six times, hitting Jones three times. Ballistics reports show Jones’ gun was never fired.

Disgraced Boynton plastic surgeon key to PBC trial on horrific injuries suffered by Connecticut woman

One of Palm Beach County’s most notorious plastic surgeons is back on trial this week in a civil lawsuit that turns on whether he or Bethesda Memorial Hospital are responsible for horrific – and life-threatening –  injuries suffered by a Connecticut woman who merely wanted to turn back the clock on her appearance.

Mark Schreiber (Broward jail mugshot)
Mark Schreiber (Broward jail mugshot)

Dr. Mark Schreiber, who lost his medical license in 2006 and spent two years in prison after botching several surgeries at his long-shuttered Boynton Beach office, won’t attend the trial that began Monday. He was arrested in Broward County last year on a Miami-Dade County warrant that charges him with practicing medicine without a license in a warehouse in Hialeah, leaving a trail of deformed patients, including a man who claims he now has a one-inch long penis.

Although he won’t be in the courtroom, Schreiber, who refused to respond to the lawsuit filed on behalf of Cheryl Volenec in 2008, will loom large during the trial in which she is expected to seek hundreds of thousands – if not millions – from the hospital.

During opening statements, attorney Barbara Sonneborn, who represents Bethesda, said hospital physicians performed heroically when the then-60-year-old Volenec arrived at the hospital in January 2006 after a 7 1/2-hour operation at Schreiber’s office went horribly awry.

“The most important issue was to save her life and that’s what the hospital did,” Sonneborn told the jury of four men and four women. When Volenec arrived after having surgery to tighten sagging skin that was left after she had a “full body liposuction” a year earlier, she had lost at least 50 percent and as much as two-thirds of all the blood in her body, she said.

While doctors knew that incisions Schreiber made on her back, stomach, legs and buttocks would eventually need treatment, they first had to make sure Volenec survived, she said. That’s what they did.

Attorney Raul Garcia, who represents Volenec, described the hospital’s treatment of his client far differently. Nurses didn’t drain the wounds properly, he said. Despite numerous requests that she be seen by a plastic surgeon, none was called and no effort was made to transfer her to another hospital where one was available.

As a result, the skin surrounding the incisions died, he said, displaying a series of photos that showed large areas of black skin that eventually had to be cut away from Volenec’s body. Volenec spent three weeks in Bethesda Hospital before being transferred to Palmetto General Hospital in Hialeah where she spent three months, getting the reconstructive surgery she needed.

Volenec never lived in Palm Beach County. She came to South Florida when her husband, Randolph, was hired as an architect on the Adrienne Arsht Center, a performing arts hall in Miami, Garcia said.

The jurors won’t be told of all that has happened to Schreiber since he operated on Volenec, Garcia said. They will be told that Schreiber lost his license to practice medicine in August 2006, after a patient died after a nine-hour surgery he performed in his office. After that death, rules were changed prohibiting such massive surgeries to be performed at outpatient clinics.

But the jury won’t be told that Schreiber was released from prison in 2010 after serving a two-year sentence on charges of engaging in the unlicensed practice of medicine. They also won’t be told the 60-year-old is now being held in the Broward County jail on drug charges and is also charged in Miami-Dade County for continuing to perform plastic surgery without a license.

 

PBSO to federal judge: Race card spurred $22.4 million verdict

Claiming lawyers representing Dontrell Stephens improperly played the race card to win a $22.4 million verdict against the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and Deputy Adams Lin, sheriff’s attorneys on Monday will ask a federal magistrate to reduce the award.

An attorney from Searcy Denney Scarola, Barnhart & Shipley pushes Dontrell Stephens as he heads into the U.S. Federal Courthouse in downtown Fort Lauderdale on Jan. 28, 2016. Dontrell Stephens, who became a paraplegic after being shot in the chest by Sgt. Adams Lin in September 2013, claims the Palm Beach County sheriff's deputy used excessive force during the incident. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)
Attorney Patrick Quinlan pushes Dontrell Stephens into the federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale during the trial this year. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

Throughout the trial that ended in February, Stephens’s lawyers repeatedly implied that the 2013 shooting that left the 22-year-old West Palm Beach man paralyzed from the waist down was racially motivated, sheriff’s attorneys Summer Barranco and Richard Giuffreda contend in court papers.

Stephens’ attorneys made reference to the “Black Lives Matter” movement, which grew in response to police shootings of black men throughout the nation, Barranco wrote.

“It was clear that (Stephens’) counsel wanted the jury to see this case as another one of those egregious cases they had seen in the media where a cop shot an unarmed young black man for no good reason,” she wrote.

The racial overtones inflamed the jury, spurring them to act on passion and prejudice rather than reason, she claims.

Further, she wrote, while Stephens may be paralyzed, he is not bed-ridden nor does he require round-the-clock nursing care.

“The testimony in this case showed … he was actually able to do quite a lot  for himself,” Barranco wrote, pointing out that he can transfer himself from a bed to a wheelchair and can wheel himself around without assistance.

Attorney Jack Scarola, who represents Stephens, scoffed at Barranco’s attempt to put what he called “a positive spin” on Stephens’ injuries. “The cold harsh reality is that a healthy, active 20-year-old man was sentenced to over half a century in a wheelchair, unable to move from the waist down,” he wrote.

Lin shot Stephens seconds after stopping him for riding his bicycle erratically in morning rush-hour traffic on Haverhill Road. The shooting was captured on a video camera on Lin’s dashboard.

In closing arguments, Scarola told jurors that “Dontrell Stephens’ life mattered.” If Barranco or Giuffreda didn’t like it, they should have objected at the time, he wrote.

The verdict was rendered by a “intelligent, attentive and diligent jury that was fully qualified to assess the damages sustained by Dontrell Stephens,” he wrote. Contrary to Barranco’s assertions, he insisted they weren’t driven by passion or prejudice but powerful facts.

The hearing before U.S. Magistrate Barry Seltzer is to begin at 2 p.m.