Senate President Joe Negron officially named a third party investigator to look into allegations state Sen. Jack Latvala harassed and groped at least six women in Tallahassee, the Senate President’s office announced Thursday.
Leading the investigation will be the Jackson Lewis law firm, a nationwide employment firm which has four offices in Florida.
Tampa attorney Gail Holtzman, who specializes in employment law and harassment claims, will lead the investigation.
According to Negron’s office, the Office of Legislative Services sought guidance from law professors at state universities to identify firms specializing in employment law and harassment claims who would provide “sufficient and balanced resources” for the investigation.
Other criteria considered in order to ensure a fair and objective investigation were firms’ independence from the Florida Legislature in regards to appropriation of state funds and governmental relations.
The investigation comes on the heels of a Politico Florida story published last week which detailed the claims of six different women who all said Sen. Latvala had sexually harassed or groped them in Tallahassee.
An hour after the story broke, Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said his chamber would launch a full investigation into the matter, citing a “zero tolerance” policy for sexual harassment.
“These allegations are atrocious and horrendous. As Senate President, my first priority is the safety of our staff and visitors,” Negron said.
Initially, Negron directed an immediate investigation into the allegations by Senate General Counsel Dawn Roberts, but Roberts, a friend of Latvala's, recused herself from the investigation Saturday evening.
"It became clear to me that my professional relationship with Senator Latvala through the years, most recently as Staff Director of the Senate Committee on Ethics and Elections, of which [Latvala] was the chair during President Gaetz's administration, could call into question the objectivity of the investigation," Roberts wrote in a letter to Negron.
Latvala has since vowed to fight the allegations, calling the Politico story “totally fabricated” and “fake news.”
Supporters of Latvala have said the women, many of whom said they requested to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, should identify themselves and have questioned whether the allegations actually took place.
Since the story broke, more women have come forward, with some who worked for Latvala speaking on the record, blasting the Clearwater Republican and gubernatorial hopeful for being a “predator.”
Former Latvala employee Molly Wilson told Politico that while she was never sexually harassed by the senator, his activities were “always an open secret. In my case, I tolerated degrading comments because I badly needed to keep my job.”
This isn’t the first time Latvala has found himself in hot water for his behavior in Tallahassee.
Earlier this month, 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.”
Still, the senator said he fully intended to fight back.
"I'm going to clear my name," Latvala told the Times/Herald.