sexual harassment

Rick Scott, Jeb! weigh in on Roy Moore

Gov. Rick Scott called allegations that Sen. Jack Latvala had groped women and made unwelcome remarks about their bodies “disgusting.”

On Tuesday, the governor used that same description when asked about Alabama GOP senate candidate Roy Moore, but this time he softened it with a qualifier.

Moore, the firebrand who was twice ousted from Alabama’s highest court, has been accused by five women of sexual misconduct, including one who said that Moore groped her in a locked car when she was 16 and another.

Moore has denied the allegations, and threatened to sue.

At a press conference in Jacksonville after announcing his budget proposal this morning, a reporter asked Scott if Moore should step aside from the Senate race.

“Whether it’s Roy Moore or what you read about the media reports from California or D.C. or Tallahassee, it’s disgusting. So, if any of those allegations are true, he ought to resign,” Scott said.

The governor was then asked if a different threshold exists regarding predatory behavior with minors.

“I think whether it’s minors, whether it’s women, anybody. I mean, let’s think about it. We all have children. We have nieces and nephews. I have daughters. Now I have grandsons. I expect people to be treated with respect. That’s what you always expect. So, if the allegations are true, he has to get out,” Scott said.

Other Republicans have been more pointed about wanting Moore, a former prosecutor, to get out of the race.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush weighed in during an appearance on CNBC this week.

“This is not a question of innocence or guilt like in a criminal proceeding, this is a question of what’s right and what’s wrong. Acknowledging that you’re dating teenagers when you’re 32 years old as assistant state attorney is wrong. It’s just plain wrong,” Bush, a former Republican candidate, said during the CNBC interview.

“We need to stand for basic principles, and decency has to be one of those,” he went on. “In the really poisonous political environment we have right now, one of the rules I think has to apply is that when you attack somebody on the other party, and the other team, for doing something wrong, when it happens on your team you have an obligation, I think, to speak out as well.”

What happens next: Latvala investigation

For anyone living under a rock, Sen. Jack Latvala is under investigation by his colleagues for allegations of sexual harassment.

Here’s an explanation of how the process is supposed to work under the Senate rule — which you can read here — and what’s happened so far.

Senate President Joe Negron first ordered Senate general counsel Dawn Roberts to lead the inquiry, but, after criticism because Roberts had worked as Latvala’s staff director as recently as two years ago, she recused herself.

A little context here: Latvala (and his allies) faced off against Negron (and his allies) in a brutal battle for the leadership post in 2015 that undercut much of the legislative action that year.

Negron and Latvala ended up brokering a deal in which Negron would be president and Latvala would be the powerful budget chief. Negron stripped Latvala of the prestigious post this week.

It’s worth noting that Latvala said, as recently as yesterday afternoon, that Negron had little choice but to order the inquiry, given the national “atmosphere” about allegations of sexual misconduct.

Negron then asked the Office of Legislative Services to find someone to conduct the investigation.

Yesterday, OLS said they had picked the Lewis Jackson law firm to handle the probe, which will be led by Tampa lawyer Gail Holtzman.

Under the Senate rules, a “special master” — in this case, presumably, Holtzman — conducts the inquiry.

As of yesterday afternoon, Latvala said he hadn’t been given a copy of the complaint, and Senate leaders haven’t returned phone calls from his lawyer, Tallahassee pit bull Steve Andrews.

That may not be a violation of the rule, which says: “The special master shall conduct an investigation, shall give reasonable notice to the Senator who is alleged to have violated the Rules and shall grant the Senator an opportunity to be heard unless the investigation fails to reveal facts supporting a finding of probable cause.”

Negron asked anyone with information about the allegations to contact Holzman:

Individuals may contact Ms. Holtzman through her assistant, Nicole Villa, to schedule appointments beginning tomorrow at 813.512.3215.

The Senate has zero tolerance for sexual harassment, sexual assault, or misconduct of any kind.  I encourage anyone with any information regarding the anonymous allegations to contact Ms. Holtzman.  Identifying information regarding anyone who has been the victim of sexual harassment will be held confidential as permitted by law.

.If the special master finds the facts don’t support the allegations, the Rules chair — Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto — has to dismiss the complaint.

Another side note:  In a 2010 campaign video, Benacquisto revealed that she was raped when she was 19, and, after the POLITICO report came out, she urged women who’ve been the victims of sexual harassment to come forward.

If the complaint isn’t dismissed, the Rules Committee “shall consider special master’s report and recommendation, shall grant the Senator an opportunity to be heard, and shall develop its own recommendation.”

If it gets that far, expect some fireworks from Andrews, who’s a take-no-prisoners kind of guy.

Benacquisto will have to dismiss the complaint if the committee votes to dismiss it.

Latvala told me last night that Benacquisto “may have some conflict” acting as the overseer of the complaint against him, but he wouldn’t elaborate.

If the committee doesn’t vote to dismiss the complaint, the recommendation of the special master and the recommendation of the committee will be given to Negron, according to the rule.

Negron will then present the recommendations to the Senate “for final action.”

The penalties include censure, reprimand, or expulsion from the Senate, and require two-thirds vote:

Separately from any prosecutions or penalties otherwise provided by law, a Senator determined to have violated the requirements of the Rules regulating legislative conduct and ethics may be censured, reprimanded, or expelled. Such determination and disciplinary action shall be taken by a two-thirds (2/3) vote of the Senate, on recommendation of the Rules Committee.

You can read the entire Senate rule after the jump.


Latvala: “They don’t know jack”

We had a lengthy interview yesterday with embattled Sen. Jack Latvala, who’s under investigation by his colleagues after being accused of groping and verbally demeaning female lobbyists and aides.

Here’s some of what didn’t make it into the story in which the Clearwater Republican picked apart some of the allegations, admitted to others — related to the comments about women’s appearances — and called on his accusers to undergo lie detector tests, as he did.

“There are a lot of powerful interests here,” he said, referring to the allegations.

Latvala’s’ running for governor, and right now, his main opponent in the GOP primary is Ag Commish Adam Putnam. But House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a political foe of Latvala’s who’s called for the senator to step down, is widely expected to jump into the race.

Latvala wouldn’t say whether he’s going to stay in the race.

“I’m not going to get into that at this point. I think there’s a whole bunch of people surprised that I’m still standing at this point, on both fronts,” Latvala said, referring to the governor’s race and remaining in the Senate.

“They don’t know Jack, though, do they?” he said, using a campaign slogan.

Latvala’s also may have some political enemies in his own chamber.

Latvala said he’s been followed by a private detective “on and off” since he returned to the Senate in 2010, and referred to a heated contest for president of the Senate.

“I think that’s so disgusting that our system in Tallahassee’s come to that,” he said. “What I do from here on is going to depend on how this system works. There’s a lot of people in our Republican party who don’t like the way people tried to stop Donald Trump and there’s a lot of parallels here.”

It’s unclear if Latvala was referring to other Republicans who tried to take down Trump, or the media, which Trump accuses of having it out for him.

Latvala has harshly criticized POLITICO Florida, which first reported the allegations by unnamed women.

He said his political future is “dependent on how the system works.”

Negron’s hired an outside law firm to handle the investigation, which will then go to the Senate Rules Committee, headed by Lizbeth Benacquisto.

Latvala, who’s been in the political process for decades, rejected the notion that sexual harassment is the backdrop for everything that happens in the Capitol, as suggested by some.

“I think a lot of people would like to make the problems in the Capitol all be about sex. But I’ve never seen so many $250,000 checks cut in my life in 40 something years in politics in Florida,” he said. “I still say you get a whole lot more for a quarter of a million dollar check than you get for a good-night kiss.”




Lawyer: Sexual harassment victims “dragged through the mud”

IMG_2413Decrying a “culture of harassment” in the Florida Capitol, a group of men and women called for changes to the way sexual harassment complaints are handled and called on more women to come forward to “break the cycle.”

The demands came at a press conference on the steps of the Old Capitol, attended by a handful of members of the Florida chapter of the National Organization for Women, two Democratic House members and a lawyer who represented the victim in one of the state’s most notorious investigations regarding sexual harassment involving a legislative leader.

“This is all about power,” Barbara DeVane, a lobbyist for Florida NOW, said. “We can end the predatory practices of the perpetrators of sexual harassment.”

Tallahassee lawyer Rick Johnson represented Kathie Jennings, a former legislative aide who was secretly paid $47,000 in 1987 to settle accusations of sexual harassment by former state Rep. Fred Lippman. Three years after the settlement, a House committee conducted an investigation into the alleged wrongdoing. Lippman served three more terms after the hearings were completed.

The press conference comes amid a pending investigation into alleged sexual harassment by Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican running for governor. Several unnamed women have accused Latvala of groping them or making unwelcome verbal comments about their bodies. Latvala has vehemently denied the allegations.

Johnson said he’s consulted with more than 1,000 sexual harassment victims.

“I have advised the great majority of them to keep their mouth shut or not to sue,” Johnson said. “I have done that because i have seen so many destroyed. I have seen so many dragged through the mud. I have seen so many nervous breakdowns. I have seen so much.”

Johnson said a retired Supreme Court justice should oversee the investigation into Latvala. Senate President Joe Negron first asked the Senate general counsel, Dawn Roberts, to lead the inquiry, but ordered an independent investigation Roberts asked to be removed from the probe because she has long-standing professional ties with Latvala.

Johnson also said Negron should foot the legal bill for victims and witnesses, who he said could become “untouchable” after exposing wrongdoing of high-ranking lawmakers.

Negron should “guarantee legal representation at no cost for any victim that comes forward or any witness that comes forward,” Johnson said.

“They’re going to be thrown to the wolves,” he said.

Sexual harassment in the statehouse: Florida has plenty of bedfellows

Lawmakers “can’t police themselves.”

That’s from a headline in a recent Sacramento Bee report detailing how statehouses around the country — including Florida — are dealing with sexual harassment.

Missouri, Tennessee, New York, Kentucky, Washington, Illinois, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and California are among the states where women say a toxic environment exists in state capitols.

In Florida, veteran Sen. Jack Latvala has been stripped of his post as the powerful budget chief, at least during an investigation into allegations that he groped and verbally demeaned female lobbyists and aides. Senate President Joe Negron ordered the investigation into the allegations regarding Latvala, his onetime political foe. Latvala, a Clearwater Republican running for governor, has vehemently denied the accusations.

In California, more than 200 women involved in the political process — including lobbyists and lawmakers — signed a letter exposing what they called a “pervasive” culture of sexual harassment. The head of the California Senate has called for two independent investigations into the issue.

Here’s the top of the Sac Bee report:

A powerful Missouri lawmaker’s lust for a 19-year-old intern compelled his colleagues to ban romantic relationships between lawmakers and capitol staff.

In New York, three simultaneous sexual harassment scandals involving different state lawmakers prompted a crackdown in Albany.

And in Tennessee, persistent harassment by a state representative led his peers to expel him from the legislature last year.

Read the rest of the Sac Bee story here.

Sexual harassment allegations create “awkward” mood in Senate

Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, took over as the upper chamber’s powerful budget chief Monday after Senate President Joe Negron told Sen. Jack Latvala to step aside, at least for now.

Bradley’s no stranger to the budget process. The former prosecutor has chaired three budget subcommittees since joining the Senate five years ago.

Negron stripped Latvala of his post as Appropriations Committee chairman following allegations that the Clearwater Republican groped women and made unwelcome verbal comments about their bodies. Latvala, who is running for governor, is out of the post while an investigation, ordered by Negron, is pending, the Senate president said Monday.

Latvala has steadfastly denied the allegations, vowing to clear his name.

The investigation into the alleged misconduct by Latvala comes after a high-ranking Democrat, Jeff Clemens, resigned from his Senate seat after admitting he had an affair with a lobbyist.

Bradley said he’s “going to keep the trains moving on time” to make sure the budget process keeps on track in Latvala’s absence.

When asked about the mood of the Senate following Clemens’s exit and the accusations against Latvala, Bradley said it was “awkward.”

“It’s an awkward situation that we find ourselves in. Ever since the Harvey Weinstein story and the Roger Ailes story became national news, I think there’s been an appropriate focus on sexual mistreatment in the workplace. It’s no surprise that Tallahassee isn’t immune from those dynamics and those discussions,” Bradley said in an interview Monday afternoon. “My focus is on making sure that anyone who has been the victim of sexual misconduct while either working for the Senate or visiting the Senate feels completely comfortable coming forward and sharing their experiences.”

Bradley said he was sickened by the allegations.

“What I hear, in terms of how other people perceive they’ve been treated, how other people have been treated, and this concern about retribution going forward, all of that makes me sick to my stomach,” he said.

The spotlight on sexual harassment and sexually inappropriate behavior, as awkward and uncomfortable as it may be, could be a good thing, Bradley said.

“For too long, there was a discomfort in people sharing those experiences, and that’s wrong. I think in some ways, this is going to result in positive changes for how Tallahassee does business, just like I think there’s positive changes for how people to business in the private sector and government throughout our country,” he said.

Some female lobbyists are complaining that the scrutiny is making it harder for them to do their jobs: Some male lawmakers and aides  are refusing to meet after-hours or privately with the women.

Bradley said he treats everyone equally, and called on his colleagues and lashed out at anyone who’s excluding women.

“This concept that women feel like they’re going to be disadvantaged because men are less inclined to deal with females or work with females because they’re afraid of being misconstrued, I think that’s a bunch of hogwash,” he said. “I think it’s hogwash to say that you’re going to change your behavior and not allow women to interact with you under the same set of rules, I think that’s hogwash to make such a statement. Women and men need to be treated equally in this process. And whatever rules one has for dealing with men, they need to have the same rules for dealing with women. It should all be professional.”

UPDATE: Berman apologizes to Senate prez over sexual harassment email

State Rep. Lori Berman, a Lantana Democrat hoping to win an open Senate seat, called  Senate President Joe Negron to clear up an email issued by her campaign regarding Negron’s sexual harassment policy.

The email, issued earlier in the day, called Negron’s policy “shameful.”

The message — which wasn’t a fundraising message, Berman pointed out — to Negron was not intended “to make him an issue but rather to improve the policy,” Berman told us in a text message.

Berman is seeking to replace former state Sen. Jeff Clemens, who resigned from the Senate on Friday after admitting he had an extramarital affair with a lobbyist.

“I left the conversation feeling he his personally committed to ensuring a zero tolerance sexual sexual harassment policy. I am pleased he has taken the initiative to work with Senator Benacquisto to revisit the Senate Policy,” Berman said in a text message.

Berman didn’t exactly call it an apology, but the Senate president did.

Negron said Berman reached out to him “to apologize for her overzealous campaign” that had sent the letter in response to earlier news reports.

“I have accepted Rep. Berman’s apology. I have zero tolerance for sexual harassment in the workplace and urge anyone who has been a victim of sexual harassment to confidentially report it. Allegations of sexual harassment are taken very seriously and there will be appropriate consequences for any individual violating Senate rules in this regard,” Negron, R-Stuart, said.