In 2002, Attorney David Bianchi was instrumental in the creation of the Chad Meredith Act, the very first law in Florida to make hazing a felony. Since then, the law has been used to prosecute fraternity members who have injured or killed other students with acts of hazing. Today, however, Mr. Bianchi wants to strengthen the 17-year-old statute, and he and Michael Levine from our firm have drafted a bill to do just that.
As reported in News Service Florida, Bianchi and Levine are working closely with Senator Lauren Book—as well as Representative Chip LaMarca and Tom and Sandy Coffey, the parents of Andrew Coffey and our firm’s clients—to expand Florida’s anti-hazing law. “We know we need to make this good law even better,” Bianchi told the Florida Senate Criminal Justice committee on March 11, 2019 which was the first committee to consider the proposed amendments to the Chad Meredith Act.
The current anti-hazing proposals include plans to prosecute people who plan events or recruit people for events where hazing is involved. Another proposal would give immunity to the first person to call 911 when a hazing victim needs attention, provided they cooperate with the investigation afterward. The proposals also include “permanent injury” as one of the potential consequences prosecutable under the law. “It’s time we keep ourselves up with how we keep kids safe,” Sen. Lauren Book said during the committee meeting.
Our law firm was proud to represent the Coffey family in their battle against Phi Kappa Phi. This FSU fraternity coerced Andrew into drinking an entire bottle of Wild Turkey in 2017, eventually causing his death. The Coffey family has since been involved in an organization called Parents United to Stop Hazing (PUSH).
“Put people on notice so that they can’t just do whatever they want to do without any type of consequence,” said Tom Coffey, who was holding back tears as he spoke to the Criminal Justice committee. “We are doing this for all the other kids. We never, ever, ever, ever want to see this repeated again.” Following the presentations by Mr. Bianchi and Mr. Coffey to the Senate committee, the committee unanimously passed the bill, and it now moves on to other committees in the Senate and the House. As of today, the bill has been considered by 5 other committees and all have passed it unanimously. We are optimistic that this very good bill will be enacted into law this year.
Addressing Specific Problems Faced by Prosecutors in Hazing Cases
Nicholas Mauricio, another client of our firm and a former FSU student, is the most recent hazing victim injured by reckless fraternity behavior and the events surrounding his injury spurred some of the changes incorporated into the bill that we wrote. Nicholas suffered a permanent brain injury after getting punched in the face by a fraternity member in a ritual known as “Scumbag of the Week.” Bianchi and Levine just settled the case we filed on Nicholas’ behalf ensuring that he will have the funds necessary to receive the treatments that be needs in the future.
The proposals listed above also seek to address problems faced by Andrew Coffey the night he died. One of the reasons Coffey was killed by acute alcohol poisoning was that his fraternity brothers initially hesitated to call emergency services. “Andrew Coffey would probably be alive today had someone called 911 at 3 AM,” Bianchi told a Senate committee considering the bill.
Following his death, investigators had a hard time getting the fraternity members to cooperate. The Grand Jury commented that the fraternity members all said the same thing, as though they were reciting lines from a script. Offering immunity to whomever calls 911 and cooperates with investigators may make it easier for law enforcement to hold wrongful actors accountable.
A spokesperson for FSU, the school Andrew Coffey attended when he died, said that the university supports any legislation that would reduce the risk of hazing on campuses throughout Florida. FSU President John Thrasher suspended all Greek life activities for the months following Andrew’s death and has promised to reform the drinking culture among FSU organizations.
Our firm is proud of David Bianchi, Stephen Cain, and Michael Levine, all of whom have been instrumental in pushing the bill in the legislative process. They proudly represented the parents of Chad Meredith, the parents of Andrew Coffey, and Nicholas Mauricio in the hazing cases that we filed on their behalf. As lawyers, our highest calling is to help make our laws and our communities safer and to obtain recoveries for the victims of hazing whenever we are asked to do so. Creating stronger anti-hazing laws is one of the most important ways our firm has contributed to reducing the likelihood that there will be more hazing victims in the future. We have been leaders in these efforts for 20 years and we will continue to lead on this throughout the country.
To learn more, check out these recent news articles about this: