Cemetery Reformed After Allegations of Grave Desecration

CORAL GABLES, FL (May 15, 2008) – After five years of state supervised reform, Menorah Gardens cemetery in West Palm Beach will be rededicated this Sunday, May 18th at 10 a.m. at the site’s chapel. The court appointed examiner Richard O. Baldwin has declared that the remediation efforts at the cemetery are satisfactory and management can be released to SCI Funeral Services of Florida. Rabbi Maurice Lamm, a leading national expert on Jewish burial law and a member of the court appointed Blue Ribbon Panel overseeing the examiner’s work, will deliver the rededication address, and Rabbi Leonard Zucker, President of the Board of Rabbis of West Palm Beach will preside.

A class action lawsuit was filed in 2001 accusing SCI Funeral Services of Florida and Service Corporation International, the largest provider of funeral services in the country, of desecrating Jewish cemetery sites, misplacing bodies, overselling plots and removing bodies from burial sites at its West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale Menorah Gardens cemetery locations.

“This is a welcome day for all of us who have been deeply involved in this process,” said Rabbi Lamm, “and I am glad that we can finally bring an end to this trying time and usher in a new era of Menorah Gardens in Palm Beach. The legal system in Florida worked masterfully; the morality system in Florida was flouted egregiously. I am pleased that SCI has improved the cemetery so well.”

In 2003, attorneys Ervin Gonzalez, a partner at Coral Gables-based Colson Hicks Eidson, and Neal Hirschfield, of Fort Lauderdale-based Greenspoon Marder, represented thousands of people in the class action lawsuit and reached a $100 million settlement. In addition, under state supervision and a Blue Ribbon Panel, SCI is spending millions of dollars to fix existing problems and to reorganize its cemeteries to ensure that all graves are marked properly.

“The legal system provided justice for the thousands of families who suffered from this terrible tragedy,” said Gonzalez. “I am glad that all parties have worked so hard to remediate this situation and bring peace back into the lives of all people who had loved ones buried at Menorah Gardens in West Palm Beach.”

“Hopefully, the justice served in this case along with the rededication ceremony will bring closure for the many who suffered,” said Hirschfield. “It’s time for these families to finally find the peace they thought they’d found so many years ago.”

Class counsel on the case has participated in nearly 400 hearings to represent those claimants who qualified for emotional distress claims hearings, as determined by the examiner. All class members who qualified for emotional distress hearings were represented by class counsel and have had their cases heard by court appointed special master, Leonard Fleet. Fleet, the former trial judge for the case when it was settled, is currently writing recommendations for the hundreds of claimants regarding monetary awards. Fleet will present those recommendations to the current trial judge, Ronald Rothschild, who will accept, reject or modify the recommendations. Claimants may receive compensation based on Judge Rothschild’s decisions.

Menorah Gardens cemetery in West Palm Beach is located at 9321 Memorial Park Road. After the rededication ceremony, food and refreshments will be served.