Warwick Beacon

Hornoff may lose bulk of settlement to ex-wife

Thursday, August 31, 2006

By KELLY SMITH

Originally their plan was to move south Oct. 1. But after a Family Court ruling Tuesday at which Associate Justice Pamela Mactaz awarded at least one-third of his $600,000 settlement to his ex-wife, J. Scott Hornoff and his wife Tina have put their plans to relocate on hold indefinitely.

In a nutshell, Hornoff and his ex-wife, Rhonda Goula, are at odds over how much of his $600,000 settlement from the city of Warwick should go to her. The two were divorced while Hornoff was wrongfully imprisoned for the 1989 murder of Victoria Cushman. According to Hornoff, Goula has asked for at least half of the settlement amount before paying attorney fees and expenses – an amount totaling $232,000. Should this be the case and the fees come from his $300,000, Hornoff would be left with the remaining $68,000. That breaks down to about $30 a day for each day he spent in prison.

“No matter how the judge awards me, it’s all basically already spent on repaying creditors, loved ones and back rent,” Hornoff said Tuesday prior to Mactaz’ decision. “We have a lot of debt. Our hope is that the Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Bill will be passed next year.”

Earlier this year, legislators tried getting a Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Bill passed, but to no avail. The bill, as it was last written, would require the state to pay those who can prove their wrongful incarceration twice their annual salary prior to their arrest or $50,000, whichever is greater, for each year they spend in prison. It also provides for education and social services such as counseling, and reasonable attorney fees.

Should the bill pass, Hornoff would receive roughly $600,000. Hornoff is hopeful the third time will be the charm during the next General Assembly session and the bill will pass.

Save for a few college lectures and some substitute teaching last year, Hornoff has remained unemployed since his release in November 2002. He and Tina have been living on her income as a massage therapist, on credit and with the help of family. Hornoff has yet to see the wealth others believed he’d see upon his release. Though he’s settled his civil suit with the city, the state, he said, has refused to negotiate a settlement.

In closed chambers Tuesday, Mactaz ordered Hornoff and Goula each receive $100,000 and Goula receive an additional $100,000 for back child support, even though Hornoff has not worked since before he was sent to prison in 1996. Mactaz ordered the remaining $300,000 be put into an escrow account until it can be determined how to proceed with paying the attorneys’ fees. Hornoff is hoping the judge will give him the remaining $68,000, and split expenses down the middle.

The two sides meet again in Family Court in mid-September for a scheduling hearing.

“Too much time, money and energy is spent in family court,” said Hornoff. “Unnecessarily,” added Tina Hornoff.

Two weeks ago, Hornoff, who turned 44 yesterday, settled his more than four-year-old dispute with the city when he agreed to receive $600,000 as compensation for his wrongful imprisonment and physical injury due to his wrongful imprisonment, thereby absolving the city from his civil suit still pending against the state. In addition, Hornoff was reinstated as a Warwick police detective (from which he then retired) and will be given a $1,848 bi-weekly medical disability pension and health coverage for him and his family.

He waived all back pay awarded by Judge Joseph Rodgers in early 2004, which the city appealed, an amount in excess of $500,000 and which would have grown to about $750,000 in the two-and-a-half years since the parties were waiting for the Rhode Island Supreme Court to hear the city’s appeal.

“We waived that to get this settled,” he said. “My primary reasons for settling with the city were to pay child support – that was weighing heavily on me. Also, one of the provisions in the [medical disability pension] statute is that children of police officers and firefighters are provided tuition waivers to state colleges and universities. My oldest son Joshua is a senior [in high school] this year and it’s important to me, even though I am not required to pay for college, to give him and my other children this opportunity.”

Hornoff has three sons with Goula and an 11-month old daughter, Abigale, with Tina.
The Hornoffs had hoped to relocate to the South after Abigale’s first birthday next month, but have decided it’s not something they can afford right now. Instead, they will wait until this is settled or when and if the Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Bill passes, whichever comes first.

In court Tuesday, Goula said she had no comment on the case and her attorney, Gregory Inman, did not return a call asking for a statement.

In the end, Hornoff said while the situation is upsetting for him, he feels he has a family that gives him more joy than money can buy.

“No amount of money can replace the happiness that Tina and Abbie bring me, or the joy I experience when I see my sons; they’re priceless,” he said.

If only love could pay the bills.

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