State Politics

State senator says he’s innocent of sexual harassment, claims polygraph proves it

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, fields additional questions from reporters at the Capitol after leaving the podium at the Florida AP Legislative Day, Thursday, Nov 2, 2017.
Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, fields additional questions from reporters at the Capitol after leaving the podium at the Florida AP Legislative Day, Thursday, Nov 2, 2017. AP

Facing sexual harassment accusations from six unidentified women, Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater denied alleged incidents described in a news report, signed a sworn affidavit, and passed a lie detector test — which he says is proof he did not harass women in the capital.

“Latvala is being truthful,” states the polygraph report, which was administered by his legal team. “He passed his examination and would be classified as non-deceptive.”

Fighting accusations that could ruin his career and have nearly doomed his candidacy for governor, Latvala said his attorney, Steve Andrews, hired Timothy Robinson of Tallahassee, a retired chief polygraph examiner for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Under penalty of perjury, Latvala denied under oath that he ever intentionally touched a woman’s private areas, rubbed a Senate staffer’s leg while she cried, or touched a woman’s breasts or buttocks in the rotunda of the Capitol, three of the more serious allegations in a Nov. 3 Politico Florida story quoting unnamed sources.

Latvala, 66, said the three questions in his two-hour polygraph test were framed based on the most “egregious” accusations in the story.

The polygraph report came a day after the Senate confirmed that a sworn confidential complaint of sexual harassment had been filed with the Rules Committee.

Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta did not identify the target of the complaint, but the panel’s chairwoman, Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, told Capitol News Service that it had been filed. The news outlet said it was directed at Latvala, who is married.

READ MORE: “Code of silence is breaking on Tallahassee’s sex secrets”

It’s unclear how passing the lie detector test will help Latvala defend himself against the allegations. Polygraph exams are not admissible in state courts. They are allowed in federal cases only if both sides agree.

Charles Rose, a law professor at Stetson University College of Law, said polygraph tests should be conducted in neutral settings.

“I would ignore anything that anyone said about a polygraph unless I was involved in the selection of who was making it and controlling the environment,” Rose said. “I would personally look with trepidation on any polygraph conducted at the request of someone who’s trying to clear their name.”

A person who truly believes that “the facts are a certain way,” even if they are wrong, can pass a polygraph test, said Rose.

Latvala said it was the first time he had taken a polygraph test.

Andrews prepared an affidavit and Robinson read three statements during the polygraph interview. With each of the statements, Latvala denied harassment.

Latvala said Andrews also recorded sworn statements on video this week from at least 15 women who are willing to be character witnesses for Latvala, a Republican who has been one of the most influential members of the Legislature.

“Have I made mistakes? Am I a little looser than I ought to be with my mouth? Do I tell people they look good? Do I tell people they’ve lost weight, that’s a nice dress? Yes, I’m guilty,” the Republican senator told the Times/Herald. “But I’m not guilty of touching anybody against their will, and I will go down fighting and swinging as hard as I can to demonstrate that, because this is my name.”

Jack Latvala, Florida’s newest Republican candidate for governor, struggled Wednesday to fully blame the deadly violence that took place during a Charlottesville rally over the weekend on white supremacists.

Andrews chose Robinson, the same polygraph examiner who tested an aide to former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll in 2012 in a salacious dispute over allegations of sexual activity in her Capitol office and illegal recording of conversations. In a pretrial agreement, prosecutors dropped charges against the aide, Carletha Cole, who was represented by Andrews.

Known for a style that’s gruff, combative and confrontational, Latvala said Thursday that he has been a mentor to young women in Tallahassee starting their careers as Capitol lobbyists, and has helped them obtain clients.

Bonnie Basham, who has lobbied for 39 years in Tallahassee, said she volunteered to do a video deposition.

“He has never treated me any differently from a male lobbyist. He’s a curmudgeon. But he’s an equal opportunity curmudgeon,” Basham said. “If I didn’t value him and believe in him, I would have let it slide.”

Basham, 74, a former civics teacher, said: “This is all wrong. You are allowed to face your accuser.”

Latvala said the allegations have political overtones. He said that he believes he knows who his accusers are, but he declined to identify them.

Supporters of the unnamed accusers have suggested to Politico that they fear retribution from Latvala, who has more than $4.1 million in his political committee to spend in defending himself.

Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, said Senate leaders are working to present a “safe place” for women to come forward with allegations in a way that protects them from retribution.

Latvala said he is concerned that his allies could be subjects of retaliation for coming forward. He declined to release a list of character witnesses.

“People have been threatened,’’ he said. “Their cellphones and text messages [could be] subpoenaed and people are going to start doing a number on them.”

The Office of Legislative Services on Thursday selected Jackson Lewis, a nationwide employment law firm, to conduct the independent investigation ordered by Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart. Gail Holtzman, a firm partner in Tampa, will serve as lead attorney and primary contact for the investigation.

Negron removed Latvala on Monday as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, the second most powerful position in the Senate, as Latvala requested a temporary leave to contest the allegations. The upcoming annual legislative session begins on Jan. 9.

Latvala scratched a series of campaign appearances in recent days in Vero Beach, Sarasota and Bradenton and has acknowledged the political damage to his bid for governor, saying “I might not make it to my dream job.”

Latvala said neither he nor Andrews could reach the Rules Committee to get more information about the sworn complaint of sexual harassment.

Under Senate rules, a sexual harassment complaint can remain secret.

“The Senate has not and will not confirm that the complaint is regarding any specific senator, officer or lobbyist,” Betta said.

Tampa Bay Times staff writer Laura Morel contributed to this report.

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com and follow @stevebousquet.

Clearing his name?

In a polygraph examination administered Wednesday by his own legal team, Sen. Jack Latvala answered “true” to the following statements:

  • “As described in the Politico Article dated November 3, 2017, at no time did I ever intentionally touch a female’s private areas such as her buttocks, lower frontal abdomen, or breasts in a crowded Senate elevator.
  • “As described in the Politico Article dated November 3, 2017, at no time did I use my body to block the view of my hands while I rubbed the leg of a female Senate staffer while she cried.
  • “As described in the Politico Article dated November 3, 2017, at no time did I intentionally touch the breast of a female or cup a woman’s ass in the Capitol Rotunda against their will.”

Source: Steven R. Andrews, attorney at law

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