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."
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 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 also 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 said he believes Rogers has not provided proof of her allegations and 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."
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, 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 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 Negron, and his wife, Rebecca, who failed in her 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 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."
Here's Book's complaint:
The Honorable Lizbeth Benacquisto
Chair, Senate Rules Committee
400 Senate Office Building
404 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, Florida 32399-1100
Re: Formal complaint involving the investigation of Senator Jack Latvala under Senate Rule 1.38- Undue Influence and Senate Rule 1.35- Legislative Conduct
Dear Madame Chair,
With some reluctance, but after great thought and deliberation, I submit this formal complaint under Senate Rule 1.43- Violations; Investigations, Penalties. This complaint asserts specific violations under Senate Rules 1.38 and 1.35 related to conduct involving Senator Jack Latvala. The conduct relates to matters occurring after the filing of the sworn complaint by Senate staffer Rachel Perrin Rogers.
On October 30, 2017, you and I released a statement urging anyone who had been subjected to sexual harassment to "be strong and brave" if they wanted to report abuse or harassment. We told our citizens, constituents, Senate coworkers and staff that our Senate would not tolerate abuse and harassment and that the weight of sexual misconduct becoming the responsibility of the victim "ends here, that it ends today." We added "if you have been hurt or exploited, let your voice be heard." We urged individuals male or female to find their strength and use their voice to come forward, pledging that we would do all we could to shepherd them from exploitation or public shaming. To be clear, that statement was not directed at Senator Latvala as no complaint had yet been filed.
Following our statement, a formal sworn complaint was then filed by Senior Senate aide Rachel Perrin Rogers. Perrin Rogers, it has been reported, came forward based on the very public statement of support and later she was promised confidentiality via the agreement she signed.
I came to this Senate proudly. To quote Senator Latvala, I too "love this institution," and want to remain proud of it. I am confident that Senator Latvala will get a fair hearing from our Rules Committee and the full Senate on matters before it. I do not in any way prejudge Senator Latvala on that matter. However, it seems Senator Latvala, someone who I have had great admiration and respect for my entire life, may not himself be playing fair. If Senator Latvala, after serving with distinction over sixteen years in the body he loves, wants the process of the investigation to work fairly for all parties, then he must recognize the error of his actions and the dangerous precedent they set.
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. It appears by many accounts that Senator Latvala and his legal team are engaging in the very same type of courtroom tactic practiced by criminal defense lawyers in sexual assault cases, both childhood and adult. Too often, in order to win their cases, they seek to discredit and besmirch the accuser. I am all too familiar with this behavior from personal experience and I simply do not find it an acceptable course of conduct for a sitting Florida Senator. While the Senator has a right to defend himself during the normal course of an investigation, it is not ever ok to publicly attack or shame a complainant – something he has unfortunately and clearly done through various media outlets. This is not acceptable. Further, it appears that both he and his lawyers have openly and aggressively engaged in behavior to "out" his accuser in what I believe is a violation of Senate Rules.
Specifically, it appears that Senator Latvala, by not following the rules of non-disclosure and anonymity that he, the complainant, and their respective lawyers formally agreed to, is in violation of Rule 1.35. Senator Latvala personally played "Hansel and Gretel" by dropping more than bread crumbs to lead 20 million Floridians to Perrin Rogers' doorstep. He did so in a calculated manner in clear violation of the agreed process that all parties signed. An example, Senator Latvala stated on November 19th in a televised recorded interview, "coincidentally, of all the female Senate employees, this one [referring to the complainant], happens to be the wife of a political consultant working for one of the other Governor's campaigns. That's just a coincidence I am sure." (Let's put aside his allegations that the complainant had other motives for filing a report – a clear attempt at character assassination.) By giving such hint and others, anyone knowledgeable on matters of the Florida Senate could and did reasonably deduce that the complainant was Rachel Perrin Rogers. Then, following the so-called "outing" of Perrin Rogers' identity by Senator Latvala himself, he went on the attack further in another attempt to discredit her. Quoting again Senator Latvala, who stated he "had no choice but to ask people to sign affidavits attesting to (his) character – I have to protect my own reputation." But he did have a choice, a clear choice, to let his lawyers handle the matter and not use his undue influence to mount a defense, while pursuing these affidavits.
Further, it seems clear that Senator Latvala continued to use his Senatorial influence in preparing and providing his lawyers a list of females from whom to pursue affidavits – a ruse to intimidate other potential victim complainants from even considering filing similar claims. Senator Latvala's efforts were calculated and intended to create a "chilling atmosphere" for others. I have been told of several individuals, several of whom were lobbyists dependent upon Senator Latvala's position, signing affidavits of defense for him, feeling that they had no other option, and that some may have been less than truthful. Whether the affidavits are or are not truthful, the mere direct request by Senator Latvala was a use of undue influence. This clearly violates Senate rule 1.35 on Legislative Conduct undermining the integrity of the Senate.
Senator Latvala also worked to destroy Perrin Rogers' character by releasing a series of unrelated text messages in what seems to be a calculated effort to isolate Perrin Rogers and cast doubt on her credibility – a typical defense strategy that one should not expect or condone from a sitting member of the Senate.
I have attached to this complaint an email sent to me this past Friday (12/1/17) by Perrin Rogers' attorney, Tiffany Cruz, asking if I meant what you and I jointly stated in October about "women being able to safely come forward." The retaliatory conduct cannot, Madam Chair, be tolerated by this Senate. I reiterate, the investigation of the Perrin Rogers complaint should be thorough, Senator Latvala's rights should be protected, and a fair hearing should, and I am sure will, take place. However, a violation of the disclosure agreement, coupled with a scorched-earth approach by Senator Latvala is not what anyone should expect from a Senator, and is in my opinion a clear violation of Rule 1.35.
While I and, I am sure, 37 other Senators want to give Senator Latvala the benefit of any doubt, which he deserves, I believed we were committed to a thorough investigation—one without Senate interference. Unfortunately, Senator Latvala's efforts did interfere and public discretization of the complainant has created an unfortunate chilling effect on other potential complainants and witnesses. As a result of such undue influence, others who may have wished to come forward may not now do so for fear that "they too" will be unfairly and cruelly and publicly shamed, or even jeopardize their employment for no reason other than wanting to come forward, as we have encouraged, to say "no more."
Our process was designed to provide security for accusers to come forward with the promise of confidentially, dignity, and respect, but as a direct result of Senator Latvala's actions, not those of his attorneys, they can no longer feel the promised protection or confidentiality – a clear violation of Senate Rule 1.35. Sadly, I believe Senator Latvala has likely compromised our Senate and our process, and if so, must be held accountable.
Unfortunately, I know all too well what coming forward means. I know too well what it means to be threatened and re-victimized by criminal defense lawyers and the kinds of tactics employed here. Senator Latvala's aggressive behaviors in seeking affidavits and making phone calls to individuals creating an undue influence on those individuals also creates conduct unbecoming of this body. Senator Latvala's actions have worked to discourage victims from filing complaints as his actions undermined this Senate's credibility, a further violation of 1.35.
Victims are so frequently afraid to speak up, especially in the workplace, for fear of jeopardizing employment and being unable to work to provide for their families. Senator Latvala's heavy handed approach – which, I am told, includes phone calls to female lobbyists to tell them he knows they haven't come forward to speak out against him, thanking them, and abruptly hanging up – is a further demonstration of a known or perceived imbalance of power, a violation of 1.38.
Finally, Senator Latvala has personally engaged in what appears on the surface to be false and defamatory statements about Perrin Rogers and her husband Brian Hughes, with the purpose of discrediting Perrin Rogers' claims. Madame Chair, I am confident that your detailed review of this matter will cause you to reach the same conclusion which is a violation of Rule 1.35.
When the media writes and uses examples such as "… the legislature to become a festering cesspool of boorish and disgusting behavior," and "we are in the middle of a no holds barred battle to the death between the Florida Senate and its own credibility" – this, in and of itself, further substantiates the violation under 1.35. We simply must stop the continued degradation of our institution and the destruction of the life of a woman who lawfully and rightfully filed her complaint. When you and the Senate President set the rules for how these complaints would be handled, you did so expecting all parties involved to conduct themselves in a manner becoming of this Senate. We cannot sit back and intimidate women, whoever they are, who come forward with allegations of sexual harassment and abuse. It is our job to work aggressively to restore trust, confidence, dignity, respect, and integrity to this body that has otherwise been trampled as a result of the violation of the agreement entered into by both sides when this investigation began. To quote what you and I said on October 30th 2017, "that must start today and now" – which is in large part why I have felt compelled to file this complaint.
Lauren F. Book