sexual misconduct

Latvala lawyer: “Gross violation” of due process

Senate Special Master Ronald Swanson, a retired judge, issued a scalding evaluation of the sexual harassment allegations lodged against Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who strenuously denied any physical wrongdoing.

Swanson concluded there was probable cause to support nearly all of the allegations by high-ranking Senate aide Rachel Perrin Rogers, who accused Latvala of groping her, ogling her and making unwelcome comments about her body.

But perhaps even more damning was testimony from a onetime lobbyist that opened the door to a criminal investigation.

Swanson said testimony and text-message exchanges between the senator and an unidentified woman who was a lobbyist appear to indicate that Latvala violated ethics rules and may have violated “laws prohibiting public corruption.”

The lobbyist testified that, between 2015 and 2017, Latvala “touched her and groped her in an unwelcome manner every time she went to his office.”

She also said Latvala told her on multiple occasions that “if she engaged in sexual acts or allowed him to touch her body in a sexual manner he would support particular legislative items for which she was lobbying.”

The woman’s testimony is supported by “explicit text messages” sent from the senator to the lobbyist, Swanson wrote in the 35-page report. The most recent text message concerning the possible quid pro quo was sent in February 2016, according to the report. The woman testified that she left her work as a lobbyist “in large part to so (she) would never have to owe (Senator Latvala) anything.”

Swanson recommended the allegations “be immediately referred to law enforcement for further investigation.”

Latvala’s lawyer, Steve Andrews, complained that Latvala never had a chance to defend himself against the allegations of bribery, which were not included in the original complaint the special master was tasked with investigating.

“Sen. Latvala never had notice of the allegations outside the complaint, and if we had, we could have rebutted them and provided context to the allegations referenced in Judge Swanson’s report. That’s a gross violation of due process and fundamental fairness,” Andrews told Truth or Dara last night.

Here’s Latvala’s full response on Facebook, posted late yesterday evening:

The timing of the special master’s report tonight has created some special problems for me. I have a medical procedure scheduled for tomorrow/Thursday after which I have committed to go to Mississippi to see my step dad and brother for the first time since my mother died this summer, then will go be with my family for Christmas.
If there is one thing that I have learned the last couple months its the value of my family so I am not going to let their holiday be consumed by politics. I will be back in Tallahassee on Dec. 26 and will meet with my legal and political team then to consider the future. I will not have any further comment until at least then.
I appreciate the many gestures of support tonight more than you will ever know. Thank you for your friendship.




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.

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.