Florida Politics

Senator files complaint against Latvala for interfering in investigation

Sen. Jack Latvala on sexual harassment allegations

A defiant and confident Sen. Jack Latvala speaks to reporters in December 2017 about sexual harassment allegations against him by a Senate aide.
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A defiant and confident Sen. Jack Latvala speaks to reporters in December 2017 about sexual harassment allegations against him by a Senate aide.

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,” wrote Book, herself a childhood victim of sexual abuse. “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.

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, inappropriately touching her in a Tallahassee bar and making numerous harassing comments.

Latvala, who has temporarily stepped down as the Senate’s powerful appropriations chairman, denies the allegations and has hired two attorneys to interview witnesses under oath to attest to his character and prepare his defense. He said Tuesday he was disappointed in Book for filing the complaint.

“I’m so sad to hear that,” he said. “She’s a wonderful young lady and called me her second father since she’s been in the Senate. This is almost over, and there’s people who don’t want it to be over.”

He said that Book also violated the Senate rules by releasing the complaint publicly. “Complaints are confidential. That’s just grandstanding,” he said.

The 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 want me tried and convicted before we have the information presented,” Latvala said in an interview with reporters on Monday. He counters that Rogers has not provided proof of her allegations, and that the matter has come down to a “he-said, she-said dispute.”

Book’s complaint accuses Latvala of suggesting on a television news show that the complainant “happens to be the wife of a political consultant.” Rogers’ husband, Brian Hughes, is a campaign consultant for several Republican legislators and other elected officials.

Latvala said he made the remark a day before Rogers filed her formal complaint and “that was just my speculation.” Rogers’ attorney, Tiffany Cruz, disputes those dates, saying that Latvala “had her name when he did the Political Connections interview.”

Book said that Latvala “went on the attack” by attempting to discredit Rogers when he prepared a list of women from whom to seek affidavits attesting to his character.

“He did have a choice, to let his lawyers handle the matter and not use his undue influence to mount a defense, while pursuing these affidavits,” Book wrote.

Latvala said Tuesday: “I haven’t used my undue influence. I didn’t make any of the calls. I’ve got a telephone full of text messages from people saying: ‘You’ve never done this stuff. What can we do to help you?’ I had other people reach back out to these folks.”

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 Johanna Cervone, a party 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 his “mishandling of the complaint filed against Latvala,” and said that it “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 Rogers and Latvala continues 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 Negron, and his wife, Rebecca, who failed in her campaign for Congress.

The day after Rogers made the complaint against Latvala, Negron reassigned Tysinger to the Senate secretary’s office and gave her an $11,000 salary reduction. Negron’s office cited 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.”

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@miamiherald.com and @850-222-3095. Follow in Twitter @MaryEllenKlas