A second report in two days produced evidence Wednesday that Sen. Jack Latvala may have used his stature as one of the most powerful men in the state to grope women, make insensitive and shaming remarks about their bodies, and trade intimate physical contact for their legislative requests.
The 17-page report, written by Gail Golman Holtzman, a Tampa lawyer hired by the Senate to do an independent investigation into anonymous allegations, echoed many of the findings of a special master’s report presented to the Senate Tuesday by retired Judge Ronald V. Swanson. The Swanson report concluded that Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, may have violated public corruption laws and may have committed sexual assault or sexual harassment against multiple women when he allegedly sought physical contact or sexual intimacy in exchange for legislative favors.
The Holtzman report proved to be the second blow in the one-two punch that ended Latvala’s political career. Less than an hour after it was released to the public, Latvala, 66, a Clearwater Republican and the Senate’s senior lawmaker, resigned rather than face a public Senate trial and possible expulsion in his final year in office.
In a letter to Senate President Joe Negron, Latvala said it was his inability to face his anonymous accusers that led to his decision to resign.
“I have had enough,” he said. “If this is the process our Party and Senate leadership desires, then I have no interest in continuing to serve with you.”
Holtzman, a partner in the Tampa office of the Jackson Lewis law firm, was hired by the Office of Legislative Services to conduct an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment made by six anonymous women against Latvala in a Nov. 3 Politico Florida report.
An expert in defending corporations whose employees are accused of sexual harassment claims, Holtzman did not take sworn testimony or develop a transcript as part of her report and kept all names confidential, except Latvala’s. Unlike the special master’s report, Holtzman’s report does not make recommendations.
The fear of retaliation from Latvala and his supporters in Tallahassee’s politically volatile climate was a persistent theme in the report and the primary reason the names were left confidential, the report said.
“It is likely that many witnesses would not have spoken to the investigators if their names or identities were revealed,” Holtzman wrote.
“Several witnesses reported concerns about retaliation for speaking to investigators about Senator Latvala in light of his power, particularly in his recent role as Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee with control over an approximately $83 billion budget,” the report said.
As part of the investigation, which was conducted between Nov. 14 and Dec. 18, Holtzman and her legal team conducted 54 interviews, including with senators from both parties, members of the legislative staff, lobbyists and Latvala. Not interviewed were any of the six individuals who allegedly came forward to Politico with allegations against Latvala.
One of the accusers in the Politico report, Senate legislative aide Rachel Perrin Rogers, filed a formal complaint with the Senate that triggered the special master’s inquiry. But the Holtzman report said Perrin Rogers and her lawyer scheduled and canceled interviews with her. The other five alleged accusers cited in the Politico story did not come forward, the report said.
Some of the witnesses interviewed said the descriptions in the Politico report sounded true because of their own experiences. Others, however, said they had positive experiences in their interactions with Latvala.
Some stated “they had not observed or heard of any of the alleged conduct or comments,” others praised Latvala “for his work, legislative contributions and commitment,” and others said they were appreciative of his “thoughtful actions to help them,” the report said.
But the positive interviews were overshadowed by the bulk of the Holtzman report, which detailed numerous examples in which women felt harassed and uncomfortable.
One witness said that Latvala “would ask, ‘What do I get?’ ” in connection with her work. “She perceived that the implication was a suggested quid pro quo for sexual favors based on a steady pattern and constant ‘hitting on her,’ ” the report said.
At one meeting between Latvala and a small group of people, he reportedly asked one participant: “Did you tell her what I told you what I wanted her to wear?” According to the witness, the other participant responded, “Yes,” and Latvala replied: “I see you have your pearls on, but the request was nothing but.”
“The witness reported that she could not get out of the meeting fast enough, did not respond to the comment in any way, and stated that ‘It’s just what he does, and it is inappropriate,’ ” the report said.
Another witness said that when she continued to rebuff his advances, he asked her if he was “wearing her down yet.” She said she arranged to bring colleagues to meetings with him “to avoid being alone while meeting with him, which she described as ‘exasperating.’ ”
One witness told investigators that she “will not wear a skirt on the days that she meets with Senator Latvala.” And another witness said she came forward “not because of the alleged sexual misconduct, but because of what the witness described as an “abuse of the power of the office to subvert and suborn the testimony of people who would otherwise report unprofessional conduct.”
Latvala told the investigators he denied the allegations in Politico and said he may have “made comments to women regarding their physical appearance, but that he did not intend or believe that these comments were unwelcome or offensive.”
“Telling a woman she looks great, some people think that is a compliment, not an insult,” he reportedly said.
He explained that he invites lobbyists “to have drinks with him on a rotating basis to help them with their clients” and stated that “a large number of the female lobbyists feel comfortable with him, and that they leave their purses in his office and trust him.”
Lobbyists often arrived for their interview with Holtzman and her legal team with their firm’s attorney or their employers’ legal counsel, a situation that may have had an impact on the ability of witnesses to be candid, the report said.
A Senate Rules Committee hearing on what remains of the matter is scheduled for Jan. 11, two days after lawmakers return to Tallahassee in regular session.