Suicide Note Suit Against Coroner Dismissed

A woman had alleged that Montgomery County Coroner Walter Hofman violated her due process rights by withholding a suicide note written to her by her deceased son.

Montgomery County Coroner Walter I. Hofman did not violate a woman's due process rights when he refused to release a suicide note written to her by her deceased son, a federal judge ruled on Jan. 23.

The Pennsylvania Record reports that U.S. District Judge Ronald Buckwalter dismissed a lawsuit filed last summer by resident Lisa Feldman against Hofman.

Feldman's son, Evan Clausen, committed suicide in September 2011. He left a suicide note to his mother and others on the dining room table of his home. When Hofman took possession of the body for a coroner's investigation, he also took possession of the suicide note.

According to court documents, Hofman returned Evan's possessions to Feldman on the same day he ruled the death a suicide, but he did not return the suicide note. When Feldman requested the note, Hofman told her it was his policy not to release such letters and that he would "never" return it.

Feldman sued Hofman, and the court issued a decree ordering Hofman to explain why he should not have to return the letter to Feldman.

After the decree, Hofman informed Feldman's attorneys that she could pick up the suicide note at his office. According to court documents, Feldman did so.

In July 2012, however, Feldman filed a second suit against Hofman, alleging that he had violated her Constitutional right to due process, intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon her, and had seized her property ― the suicide note ― without authorization.

In dismissing the the claims, Buckwalter ruled that Hofman was immune to Feldman's lawsuit because he is a government official and because his conduct did not "violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known."

Buckwalter did not comment on whether Hofman acted properly in withholding the suicide note for two months.

"We pass no judgment on whether Dr. Hofman's withholding of the letter was ethical or moral under the circumstances," Buckwalter wrote.

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Tim Lewis January 28, 2013 at 08:03 PM
KJG - Ha! That might be funny if it the issue wasn't so serious. It seems that the prevailing democrat tactic is still to misrepresent the argument, build phantom straw men, ridicule instead of presenting a logical response. You don't get it because you may be incapable of it, but I hope that one day you start thinking clearly. But I will take your bait. Nothing was gained for the democrats. There is no conspiracy. This was one man exercising the arrogance that unchecked Power and Control bring. This is simply the progression of how the world works. The end result is a dictatorship, whether fascist, communist, socialist, monarchist or whatever ideology you choose. America's founding fathers knew this, which is why we have a constitution that solely exists to limit government power. Democrats keep pushing for government to do more and control more. Mr. Hoffman is a prime example of what you get. Just because you don't happen to agree with this particular expression of it, you don't get to ignore the reality that experiences like this are multiplied across the country.
Heidi January 28, 2013 at 10:51 PM
First, the article doesn't say she did not get to read the letter, only that she did not gain possession of it. Can we say, Chain of evidence? Second, how sad is it that she takes her anger and guilt out on somebody not responsible for her son? Why litigate instead of heal?
Chris January 29, 2013 at 12:43 AM
No comments about Judge Buckwalter? The same guy who gave Fumo a short sentence a few years back. Guess he's not on the people's side.
joei54 January 29, 2013 at 03:01 PM
It was her letter Hofman took and told her he would NEVER return it until a Judge suggest he do so. You are not a very compassionate person to assume she diodn't try to help her son. Who are you related to that is in politics?
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