Today, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed HB 1119, known by advocates as the ‘Markel Act,’ to protect grandparents and children against alienation from each other in narrow, tragic situations.
Specifically, the bill says that grandparents can petition courts for visitation with their grandchildren where the living parent was found culpable by a criminal or civil court for the other parent’s death.
Inspiration for the bill, sponsored by Rep. Jackie Toledo and Sen. Keith Perry, was the 2014 murder-for-hire of FSU law professor Dan Markel, gunned down in his garage by hitmen, leaving two young sons without a father.
Law enforcement successfully prosecuted three accomplices who they say were hired by the family of Markel’s ex-wife, Wendi Adelson, to execute Markel so that Wendi could move to Miami with the children.
Before the murder, the court denied her petition to move the children away from Markel.
Wendi’s brother, Charlie Adelson, was arrested in April for his role in the murder; authorities named both Wendi and their mother Donna as co-conspirators.
While the terms of HB 1119 don’t fully apply to the Markel murder, as there has been no civil or criminal ruling against Wendi (to date), the new law creates an incentive for a parent to allow visitation with grandparents to avoid litigation. It also creates a powerful disincentive for families to see murder as a workable solution to custody disputes.
For the Markel family, the moment is significant.
“We are so grateful to Gov. DeSantis for signing this bill and for the leadership of House Speaker Chris Sprowls, Rep. Jackie Toledo, and Sen. Keith Perry for carrying the effort forward. This effort came out of tragedy, but we are pleased and hopeful that this initiative will benefit other families,” said Ruth Markel on behalf of her family. “Danny would be proud to know such mountains were moved for the protection of his two beloved sons.”
Lobbyists Jeff Johnston and Amanda Stewart with Johnston & Stewart, along with Markel family friend Karen Cyphers, led advocacy efforts to advance the cause.
“This type of project means so much to our team, knowing that it can help families avoid suffering and alienation from one another,” said Johnston, “We are grateful to Speaker Chris Sprowls, President Wilton Simpson, and the bill sponsors for their vision, and to Gov. DeSantis for signing the ‘Markel Act’ into law.”
Toledo and Simpson share this sense of purpose and gratitude.
“At a time when many Floridians are together with family, some grandparents remain blocked from seeing their grandchildren,” said Toledo, a Tampa Republican. “I am proud to stand up for our most vulnerable, children and grandparents, in extreme and tragic circumstances with this legislation.”
“Time spent between grandparents and grandchildren is important and special, fostering the traditions that tie generations together across all seasons of life. But some families in Florida remain separated due to circumstances beyond comprehension,” said Perry, a Republican from Gainesville. “This bill will provide an opportunity for families who have lost so much already to receive the support and affection from those who love and miss them dearly.”
Cyphers, partner and director of research at Sachs Media and volunteer with Justice for Dan, was moved to help after meeting Ruth and feeling her heartbreak of being alienated from Dan’s sons.
“The tragedy of Dan’s murder was compounded by this cruel, unnecessary separation — but until now, Florida law gave his parents no recourse toward reuniting with their grandchildren,” Cyphers said. “I hope the Governor’s signing of the ‘Markel Act’ into law brings peace and hope to their family and others.”