Jack Latvala

Latvala accuser’s lawyer puts Senate on notice

A lawyer representing Rachel Perrin Rogers, the high-ranking Senate aide who accused Sen. Jack Latvala of groping her on numerous occasions over the past four years, has asked Senate President Joe Negron to preserve nearly eight years of records in anticipation of a lawsuit regarding the alleged sexual harassment.

In a letter sent to Negron Wednesday, lawyer Tiffany Cruz asked that Negron preserve “documents, tangible things, and electronically stored information potentially relevant to the claims which may be brought against the Florida Senate and Senator Jack Latvala.”

“This letter comes in anticipation of litigation under related to violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Chapter 760, Florida Statutes, and other statutes related to such violations and the concomitant conduct which my firm has been retained to investigate,” Cruz wrote.

The federal Civil Rights Act protects against employment discrimination based on sex, race, color, religion and national origin. The statute referenced by Cruz in the letter deals with the Florida Commission on Human Relations. Complaints filed with the state commission and/or its federal counterpart would be the first step in pursuing a civil action against against the Senate or Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who maintains he did not touch Perrin Rogers inappropriately.

The request for records includes emails, texts, voice messages and instant messages, as well as documents, spreadsheets and images.

Cruz asked that Negron not only preserve records dating back to Jan. 1, 2010, but intervene to prevent loss due to routine operations or malfeasance and employ proper techniques and protocols to preserve” the records.

Negron, R-Stuart, has remained tight-lipped about Latvala, amid twin investigations into the sexual harassment allegations. A special master who’s conduct a probe for the Senate Rules Committee is said to have completed his interviews, and his report — and recommendations — could be released any day.

 

 

Senate president: Sexual misconduct inquiry not slowing down process

20171208_105141Senate President Joe Negron covered a vast array of topics —including nursing homes, tax breaks, gambling and the state’s $85 billion budget — during a nearly hour-long pre-session interview with The News Service of Florida this morning.

The news team was warned beforehand that questions about the investigation into allegations of sexual harassment levied against  Sen. Jack Latvala by a high-ranking aide to Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson were off limits.

We tried to tap-dance around the restriction, but Negron, a lawyer, stuck closely to comments he’s already made about the investigation and the charges, which have rocked the Capitol and caused what one Republican senator called “paralysis” in the upper chamber.

Even Gov. Rick Scott called Latvala — a Clearwater Republican who insists he is innocent and that he is a victim of a political smear campaign — a “distraction” and said that “it seems that everyone in Tallahassee is talking about this and not how to make Florida better.”

The governor’s critique came more than a week ago; since then, there’s been almost a daily development in the increasingly toxic battle.

But Negron, a Stuart Republican headed into his second and final legislative session as the man with the gavel in the Senate, disagreed that the drama has eclipsed all other business in the Senate.

“That’s not what I see. I’m visiting with senators constantly and talking about projects. There are bills being referenced,” he said. “A lot of bills have been filed. Committee meetings are moving forward. Some bills have been voted down. Some bills have been voted up. So, I think that the people’s business is being done. And we’re going to let the process that’s set forth in our rules move forward and then there will be a resolution.”

Negron relied on talking points from memos distributed in the early days of the investigation, launched after a POLITICO Florida story early last month detailed the allegations against Latvala, when asked if the revelations exposed activity in the Capitol that had been kept under wraps for years.

“In the Senate we have zero tolerance for sexual harassment. We have zero tolerance for any mistreatment of any senator, of staff, of guests and citizens who visit us in their Capitol. That has always been our policy and will continue to be our policy. I believe that the vast majority of individuals who work in the Capitol treat people fairly, treat people appropriately, and show respect to everyone in the process,” the president said.

Negron reiterated that he wants individuals who’ve been the victim of sexual harassment to come forward.

Perrin Rogers has accused Latvala and his supporters of retaliating against her and her husband, GOP political consultant Brian Hughes. The Senate aide hired an armed guard to protect her in the Capitol, and Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat, this week filed a complaint against Latvala, accusing him of “outing” Perrin Rogers.

“With regard to the specific instance where there’s been a complaint filed that’s being investigated, the process will move forward,” Negron said, referring to the sexual harassment complaint Perrin Rogers lodged against Latvala. “There will be an outcome to that. And I’m committed personally, in my own role as the Senate president, that we’re going to respect the rights of everyone in the building and that any person who feels that they’ve been a victim of sexual harassment or sexual misconduct should feel free to confidentially come forward and report that and it will be dealt with appropriately.”

When pressed about whether the Florida Legislature was caught up in the #MeToo wave that’s gripped Congress and statehouses around the country, Negron demurred.

“In the culture generally, there’s enhanced attention to this issue. That’s a good thing. In terms of what happens in the Senate and in the Capitol, I’ll stand by my assessment that the vast majority of elected officials conduct themselves appropriately and treat people in this process with respect and in a business-like manner,” he said.

 

Bradley: “Zero tolerance” for intimidation

Fleming Island Republican Sen. Rob Bradley seemed to deliver a stern message about allegations of intimidation swirling amid investigations into alleged wrongdoing by Sen. Jack Latvala.

Bradley took over the reins as the Senate budget chief after Latvala was stripped of the post, following allegations that the Clearwater Republican had groped several women over the past few years.

The allegations are the subject of two investigations now underway, including a probe by a special master that could result in Latvala’s expulsion from the Senate.

Bradley spoke to reporters about the events following an Appropriations Committee meeting Wednesday afternoon.

“There is a real chance that at some point in time we’ll be listening to evidence not only of underlying conduct that is alleged, but also potential conduct that has occurred since the allegations have come to light,” Bradley said. “I think it’s important that not only there is zero tolerance for sexual misconduct and verbal abuse, but there also be zero tolerance for any behavior that leads to one feeling like they shouldn’t come forward or feeling intimidated.”

Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat, yesterday filed a complaint against Latvala with the Rules Committee, which will also decide on the sexual harassment complaint filed by Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson’s chief legislative aide, Rachel Perrin Rogers. Book’s complaint accused Latvala of improperly taking steps to “out” Perrin Rogers, who has hired armed security in the midst of the investigations.

Perrin Rogers accused Latvala of groping her on six occasions over the past four years. Latvala has steadfastly denied the allegations. The rhetoric around the investigations has escalated, with lawyers from both sides releasing text messages and affidavits to the media and supporters of the Senate aide and the senator taking to Twitter and Facebook to air their grievances.

Bradley said he expects the special master report regarding Perrin Rogers’s complaint may be out as early as next week, but he doesn’t know if the Rules Committee will be called in to hold an emergency meeting before the legislative session begins on Jan. 9.

“I do think it’s important that everyone that visits the Capitol, who advocates for or against proposals we consider, that are involved as employees or otherwise, they understand there is zero tolerance for sexual misconduct for verbal abuse or for, even when those allegations are made, for any attempts to intimidate. And that needs to be stated clearly and publicly so that there is no doubt that that is the position of this senator and the colleagues that I stand side-by-side with,” Bradley said.

The special master’s report will be given to the Senate Rules Committee. If the special master recommends dismissal, the committee must dismiss the complaint. The special master, retired judge Ronald Swanson, could recommend censure, reprimand or expulsion. The Rules Committee, headed by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, could adopt his recommendation or come up with its own. 

Benacquisto yesterday effectively killed the appointment of Ritch Workman, a former state representative, to the Public Service Commission. Gov. Rick Scott had nominated Workman for the post, which requires Senate confirmation. But Benacquisto said she would not take up his appointment because Workman manhandled her at a charity event last year. Workman subsequently withdrew his nomination.

Corcoran blames alleged sexual misconduct by veteran politicos on “entitlement mentality”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran made an appearance on C-SPAN this morning, again calling on Sen. Jack Latvala to resign from his post amid an investigation that he allegedly groped a high-level Senate aide.

Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, has repeatedly said that Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who is running for governor, should step down, and he used his bully pulpit on the C-SPAN bus outside the Old Capitol resign to reiterate that demand.

Latvala has denied groping Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson’s chief district aide, Rachel Perrin Rogers, or any of the unnamed women who accused him of inappropriately touching them and making unwelcome comments about their bodies.

https://www.c-span.org/video/?438169-6/washington-journal-richard-corcoran-discusses-sexual-misconduct-allegations-florida-legislature

Corcoran, who is widely speculated to be considering a bid for governor next year, explained to the national audience that there are two separate investigations now ongoing into Latvala’s alleged wrongdoing. One of them could result in his ouster from the upper chamber, Corcoran said.

“It looks like they’re heading towards expulsion,” the House speaker predicted.

In a lengthy Q-and-A with reporters Monday, Latvala gave no indication that he was heading out the door.

“There’s one overriding principle here to me that’s important. And that is I didn’t do this stuff. So why should I quit and leave town and let everybody think I did it when I didn’t do it?” he said.

In Wednesday’s C-SPAN interview, Corcoran pointed out that a number of high-ranking celebrities — including Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose — were quickly stripped of their posts following accusations of sexual harassment or misconduct.

“But here we have elected officials, who you think would be held to a higher standard are still in office, still fighting,” he said.

When asked why the political world was different, Corcoran said: “There’s an entitlement mentality.”

UPDATED: Latvala accuser seeks armed security in Capitol

Rachel Perrin Rogers, the high-ranking Senate aide who accused Sen. Jack Latvala of groping her and making lewd comments about her physical appearance, has asked for security guards when she returns to the Capitol tomorrow.

Perrin Rogers, the chief district legislative assistant to Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, came forward last week and identified herself as the woman who accused Latvala of sexual harassment on several occasions over the past few years.

Perrin Rogers’s lawyers, Tiffany Cruz, sent a letter to Negron on Thursday blaming Latvala and his supporters of forcing Rogers to go public, and accusing the Clearwater Republican and his paid minions of “engaging in serious acts of retaliation” against Rogers, “both directly and indirectly through attempts to harm her spouse’s employment.”

Perrin Rogers is married to Brian Hughes, a GOP consultant and former spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott whose clients include attorney general candidate Frank White and Baxter Troutman, who’s running to succeed Adam Putnam as ag commish.

Tiffany Cruz, Perrin Rogers’s lawyer, said she wants a Capitol Police or Florida Department of Law Enforcement officer to be assigned to the Senate staffer as she enters and exits the building and while she’s in her office because she doesn’t feel safe.

(We originally wrote that the request for security came after a whistleblower complaint was filed Friday, which is true.

But Cruz said late Sunday evening she was unaware that the complaint had been filed, until reading about it in this post.)

The complaint, filed with the secretary of the Senate Friday, accuses Perrin Rogers of “displaying a pattern of harmful and retaliatory behavior” toward Lily Tysinger, a former Senate Majority staffer who’s backed Latvala in the increasingly toxic sexual harassment investigation.

“Ms. Perrin Rogers is requesting that someone from Capitol Police or FDLE be provided to her this week while she will be working in the building. She would like someone to be with her when she comes in the building from the garage and when she leaves as well as to remain in her office area whenever she is there,” Cruz wrote to Office of Legislative Affairs General Counsel Allison Deison in an email sent Saturday morning.

Perrin Rogers “does not feel safe with Lily Tysinger in the building and having access to her and her office in light of Ms. Tysinger’s past and present conduct,” Cruz wrote. “If this is not an option, please advise so we can independently retain a law enforcement officer to be present.”

Several hours later, Deison replied that her request had been received.

Tysinger filed a whistleblower complaint Friday accusing Perrin Rogers of numerous workplace violations, including “engaging in a pattern of conduct” designed to “intimidate me due to my status as a witness” in the Senate investigation into Latvala’s alleged sexual misconduct.

Again, Cruz said late Sunday she was unaware of the complaint, which came a day after Cruz asked Negron to intervene on Perrin Rogers’s behalf because of intimidation.

“While the Senator has the right to deny the allegations, he does not have the right to spread false and defamatory information about the complainant to the public in an effort to discredit her claims,” Cruz wrote. “I expect that as his employer, you will ensure that this retaliatory conduct is not tolerated.”

Negron’s spokeswoman, Katie Betta, did not respond to a request for comment over the weekend. Cruz said Saturday she had not yet heard back from the president or his aides.

When asked whether Negron had approved the security guard, Betta said she could not comment.

But, in a text late Sunday evening, Cruz said the request had been denied.

Latvala’s lawyer, Steve Andrews, denied that the senator’s team had done anything to intimidate the senate aide or her spouse.

“Absurd,” he said in a text message.

Cruz also asked for — and was granted — extra staff to essentially provide a buffer for Perrin Rogers, whose office is located near Simpson’s inside the Senate Majority Office.

“Since next week is a committee week and my client will be back in the Capitol working, she said it would be helpful if the Majority Office could have a receptionist and/or administrative assistant sitting out front. This would prevent people from coming in to her office without permission,” Cruz wrote in an email to Deison Wednesday.

“The Senate will make sure that there is an assistant in the front of the Senate Majority Office next week,” Deison wrote back Friday morning.

Bondi’s “heart breaks” for Latvala accuser

Attorney General Pam Bondi issued a statement of strong support Friday for the woman who accused Sen. Jack Latvala of “unwanted physical touching/grabbing/groping” on six occasions over four years.

Latvala’s alleged sexual harassment is the subject of two separate investigations currently underway. Rachel Perrin Rogers, a top Senate staffer, came forward this week and identified herself as the woman who filed complaints with the Senate Rules Committee and Senate President Joe Negron’s office.

Without naming Rogers, Bondi said she was “astonished to learn that one of the victims of the recent allegations in Tallahassee is a woman who I’ve known and respected for years.”

“My heart breaks for her. We must respect the investigation by the Florida Senate and the privacy of all parties involved,” Bondi went on.

Latvala has vigorously denied the allegations, relying on more than 200 text message exchanges between the senator and Rogers that portray, at least on the surface, a cordial if not friendly relationship.

Bondi’s statement isn’t the first time she’s weighed in on the allegations against Latvala.

Last month, she called on the unnamed women in the POLITCO Florida report, which first revealed the sexual harassment accusations against the Clearwater Republican, to identify themselves.

“As a career prosecutor, I would say that you have to come forward. Someone has the right to face their accuser. It can’t be done under the condition of anonymity. So, you have to come forward. As a woman, I’d say please come forward,” she told reporters on Nov. 7.

On Friday, Bondi said she reached out to House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate Rules Chair Lizbeth Benacquisto to hold a spot for “legislation that could provide protections to victims of sexual harassment claims.”

“I encourage any woman who has been sexually harassed to come forward and allow their voice to be heard,” Bondi said in the statement.

“I look forward to working with the legislature this session to formulate laws that protect all women working in state government. It has been remarkable what women can do when we all stand together. FLORIDA MUST BE A LEADER IN THIS MOVEMENT,” she concluded.

 

 

Senate aide received nearly 38 percent pay hike in one-year period

Rachel Perrin Rogers, the Senate aide who accused Sen. Jack Latvala of groping her on multiple occasions, received an 11.5 percent pay hike days before she filed a sexual harassment complaint against the Clearwater Republican.

The Nov. 1 pay hike brought the annual salary of Rogers, who serves as the district chief legislative assistant to House Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, to $70,908, according to Senate personnel records.

Rogers, 35, has accused Latvala of “unwanted physical touching/grabbing/groping” on at least six occasions over the past four years.

Latvala has repeatedly denied engaging in any unwanted physical contact with her or other unnamed accusers.

Rogers is a well-connected aide whose husband, Brian Hughes, is a GOP political consultant. Latvala has accused the pair of being part of a political conspiracy intended to force him out of the governor’s race and the Senate.

Rogers this week publicly acknowledged that she had filed complaints against Latvala, the same day he and his lawyer, Steve Andrews, released more than 200 text message exchanges between the Senate aide and the senator showing what appeared, at least on the surface, to be a chummy relationship.

Rogers told POLITICO Florida, which broke the news about the allegations against Latvala, that she left the Senate in 2015 because of an interaction with the senator at a private club near the Capitol.

She returned to the Senate as an aide to Simpson, R-Trilby, in December 2015 at a salary of $51,456. A year later, she received just over a $10,000 pay hike, according to Senate records. This October, she — like all legislative staff — received a $1,000 pay increase, in addition to the $8,156 increase in November.

Tiffany Cruz, Rogers’ lawyer, said she believed the pay increase was approved on Oct. 27, and directed questions about the reason for the raise to the Senate.

Katie Betta, a spokeswoman for Senate President Joe Negron, said the recent raise was requested by Simpson, and was authorized on Oct. 25.