Senator files complaint against Latvala for interfering in investigation

Accusing Sen. Jack Latvala of a “scorched-earth approach” to defame his accuser, a Democratic senator from Hollywood lodged a new formal complaint against the Clearwater Republican, accusing him of violating Senate rules by attempting to intimidate witnesses in the sexual harassment investigation against him.

Sen. Lauren Book, a freshman legislator and member of the Senate Rules Committee, filed the complaint with Senate Rules Committee Chair Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, late Tuesday. The four-page complaint alleges that Latvala violated the Senate rules by using “undue influence” to interfere with the investigation against him and for violating the confidentiality agreement he signed with the Senate.

“It appears the Senator may have engaged in behavior that violates the trust we sought to establish, and which every alleged victim of misconduct deserves, by potentially victimizing, or re-victimizing, the complainant,” Book wrote. “It appears by many accounts that Sen. Latvala and his legal team are engaging in the very same type of courtroom tactics practiced by criminal defense lawyers in sexual assault cases, both childhood and adult.”

Book’s complaint is likely to set in motion another probe by the Senate into Latvala’s actions. The 66-year-old veteran lawmaker is in the fight of his political career as he attempts to fend off a rules complaint and two Senate investigations over sexual harassment claims by Senate legislative aide, Rachel Perrin Rogers, and five other unnamed accusers.

Book

Sen. Lauren Book, D-Hollywood

Scott Keeler Tampa Bay Times

Rogers filed a formal complaint against Latvala on Nov. 5, accusing him of sexually harassing her over the course of four years, including groping her in a crowded Senate elevator, inappropriate touching in a Tallahassee bar, and numerous harassing comments.

Latvala, who has temporarily stepped down been the Senate’s powerful appropriations chairman denies the allegations and has hired two attorneys to depose witnesses under oath to attest to his character and prepare his defense. He said Monday he believes Rogers has no provided proof of her allegations and the matter has come down to a “he-said, she-said dispute.”

The Florida Senate has hired retired Judge Ronald V. Swanson to serve as special master and investigate Rogers’ complaint, interview witnesses under oath, and prepare a report to the Senate Rules Committee about his findings. If he suggests there is probable cause to believe Rogers, the Senate must conduct a formal hearing into the allegations. If Latvala is found guilty, punishment could include censure or removal from office.

“The rush to judgment and the people who don’t want the process finished they want me tried and convicted before we have the information presented,’’ Latvala said in an interview with reporters on Monday.

Book’s complaint followed a statement from the Florida Democratic Party calling for Latvala’s resignation.

“Jack Latvala’s behavior is unacceptable and there is no place for it in our government or our state,’’ said Johnna Cervone, the party’s spokesperson. “Using a position of power to harass, touch, demean and pressure women—or anyone else— is wrong, plain and simple. Now, Latvala’s smear campaign against Rachel Perrin Rogers has resulted in her needing armed security. He must resign.”

The party also blasted Senate President Joe Negron for “mishandling of the complaint filed against Latvala” and said that “has resulted in an environment where women continue to feel unsafe and afraid to come forward.”

Several senators polled by the Herald/Times said they also were not prepared to make a decision without seeing the evidence as presented by the special master.

“It’s critically important for a lot of people to calm down,’’ said Sen. David Simmons, a Republican lawyer from Altamonte Springs.

Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat, said he was “just waiting for the facts” and the report from the special master. “There’s too much at risk not to do that,’’ he said.

Meanwhile, the war between the Rogers and her lawyers and Latvala and his lawyers continued to play out in the media.

Last week, Latvala’s attorneys attempted to raise doubts about Rogers by filing an affidavit with the special master from Lillian Tysinger, a 22-year-old aide who worked with Rogers in the Senate Majority Office. Tysinger, a Stuart native, joined the office after working on the political campaigns of Senate President Joe Negron, and his wife, Rebecca Negron’s failed campaign for Congress.

On the day Rogers made the complaint against Latvala, Negron reassigned Tysinger to the Senate president’s office and gave her an $11,000 salary reduction. Negron’s office gave no specific reason for Tysinger’s reassignment other than to say that the decision to reassign her “was an internal staffing decision unrelated to any allegation of sexual harassment.”

On Tuesday, Rogers’ lawyers released additional text messages between the two women. They showed the two had a cordial and friendly relationship in which they talked about co-workers, friends, pets and jewelry. On about Oct. 23, Rogers’ tone abruptly changed.

Tysinger asked: “Did I do something wrong that you are mad at me about?he next day: “Nope, just doing my job.”

Tysinger asked twice again. “I would like to know what I did or can stop doing in order to stop having you talk about me to other people. I can’t fix whatever I seem to have done wrong if you won’t tell me what it was,’’ she wrote.

Rogers responded: “I’m doing my job. If you have questions about yours, please speak to your supervisor.” When Tysinger said “this is not a question about my job,” Rogers answered: “I’m not going to discuss anything with you. Please don’t text me again.”

Days after the exchange, Politico reported that six women had accused Latvala of sexual harassment. About a week later, on Nov. 5, Rogers filed a confidential complaint formally intiating the Senate investigation into her allegations against Latvala.