Tallahassee politicos await with bated breath the results of an investigation by the Senate Special Master into allegations of sexual harassment and groping by Sen. Jack Latvala, but they won’t have to wait much longer -- according to Senate spokesperson Katie Betta, the report will be available next week.
Senate lawyers will review the report, which will then be made public.
The investigation began last month after Politico Florida published an explosive story detailing allegations from six different women — both Democrats and Republicans — all of whom tell the same story: Latvala touched them inappropriately and made comments that made them uncomfortable.
Top Senate legislative aide Rachel Perrin Rogers filed the complaint with the Senate Nov. 5, saying the Clearwater Republican groped her in a bar on top of verbally harassing her for four years.
Retired judge Ronald Swanson is serving as the special master. Swanson is responsible for determining whether or not there is probable cause for the charges and is reviewing the allegations and subpoenaing witnesses as part of the Rogers-Latvala case.
Another investigation into the other five complaints is also occurring simultaneously.
Perrin Rogers’ accusations and the accounts of the other women have prompted a statewide conversation about sexual harassment in the workplace, specifically in the male-driven environment of Tallahassee.
The women said Latvala’s intense temper was a means of intimidation and that they had to “grin and bear it” when dealing with Latvala for fear of having their projects axed.
The women asked not to be identified due to possible retribution in a small “good old boy” town where many female staffers and lobbyists do not wish to speak up because they are afraid of receiving backlash or a “bad reputation” for making allegations against powerful men.
In October, reports surfaced of hidden surveillance which showed Sen. Latvala kissing a female lobbyist, first on the cheek, then on the lips in the parking lot of a Tallahassee Italian restaurant.
Latvala, who is married, acknowledged the kiss but shrugged it off as normal behavior.
“I’m sure there are a lot of pictures of me kissing people up there, especially if I have not seen them for a while,” Latvala said. “Some people kiss on the lips.”
Latvala has maintained his innocence since the story broke, insisting the women were put up to falsely accuse him of sexual harassment for political reasons.
“Coincidentally, of all the female Senate employees, this one happens to be the wife of a political consultant working for one of the other governor’s campaigns,” Latvala told Bay News 9 last month. “That’s just a big coincidence I’m sure.”
His supporters have launched a counteroffensive against the allegations, trashing the complaints against the former Senate Budget Chief since they are mostly anonymous, with the exception of Rogers.
Latvala’s son, state Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-Treasure Island, were both criticized by Perrin Rogers’ attorney, Tiffany Cruz, for “condemning” Latvala’s accusers on social media.
“Rather than encouraging individuals who are victims of sexual harassment to come forward, anonymously or otherwise, they have taken to every avenue of social media to condemn victims,” Cruz wrote to House Speaker Richard Corcoran earlier this month.
Chris Latvala routinely searches for criticisms against his father, questioning why the accusers were anonymous.
Meanwhile, state senators and top legislators have called the controversy and Latvala “distracting.”
“It seems that everyone in Tallahassee is talking about this and not how to make Florida better,” said Gov. Rick Scott of the allegations. “It is my understanding that there's an investigation underway, and when that is complete, the Senate will have a decision to make. As I have said all along, if these allegations are true, he must resign immediately.”
Future Senate President and Perrin Rogers’ boss, Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, condemned Latvala’s behavior.
“The incidents alleged in the media are disgusting. Since mid-last week there has been a smear campaign launched against Rachel. It must end immediately,” he told Politico. “Senate Rules, Florida Statutes and federal law guarantee confidentiality in these matters. This is not a political campaign; it is about the safety and security of someone coming forward with serious allegations. If we do not protect those who speak out, we will silence other potential victims who deserve justice.”
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