A well-known Tallahassee ethics attorney who has represented politicians from both sides of the aisle says if the Senate decides to move forward with allegations of sexual harassment against Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, his accusers will have to come forward and be identified.
“At some point in time, those people will have to become public and would have to, I would believe, give testimony under oath in front of a Senate committee for the Senate committee to judge the credibility of those statements,” says Mark Herron, an attorney with Messer and Caparello. “At the end of the day.. Sen. Latvala is not going to be convicted or exonerated on anonymous testimony. Eventually, it’s going to have to come out.”
Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, announced Thursday that the Senate had retained Jackson Lewis P.C., a nationwide employment law firm, to conduct the investigation. The firm’s Tampa-based Gail Golman Holtzman, a principal in the Tampa office, is handling the investigation.
A special phone line was established for potential victims and witnesses to call to regarding information relating to the sexual harassment claims. The phone number is (813) 512-3215.
“The lawyer who is investigating this will do what they do and then make a report back to the president and then the president will decide what to do under the Senate rules which..depending on what it says, you could form a committee then to go forth and investigate and take action.”
Latvala was accused by six women who work in the Capitol of making suggestive comments to them and touching them inappropriately. Their allegations were first reported by POLITICO. The women have chosen to keep their identities anonymous.
Latvala, who is seeking his party’s nomination for governor next year, has denied the charges insisting they are politically motivated.
In an article published by the News Service of Florida, Latvala was critical of his accusers for maintaining anonymity.
“For a guy who’s entering his 16th year in the Senate, to destroy my reputation based on anonymous allegations is unfortunate.”
-Sen. Jack Latvala/News Service of Florida
Latvala told NSF that he may have made some inappropriate comments around women but insists he has never “groped” anyone. Latvala even went so far as to take a lie detector test conducted by a retired chief polygraph examiner for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He says the results prove his innocence.
But, as Politico reported Friday, an attorney representing one of Latvala’s accusers defended her client for choosing not to be identified. She points to the fact that the senator had voted last year for a public records exemption to protect the identities of those who submit sexual harassment allegations.
“The victims have every right to come forward and to do so confidentially,” said Tallahassee labor attorney Tiffany Cruz, who represents one of the women, in a text message to POLITICO. “Interestingly, he voted to pass the rules and laws that allow confidentiality, but now criticizes the validity of that process. That’s to be expected from a bombastic bully. Anonymity does not equal invalidity. His house of cards is disintegrating.”
-Terry Cruz, Labor Attorney/POLITICO
Latvala agreed last week to step down as the Senate’s budget chairman enlight of the accusations and pending investigation. Many political observers believe the claims of sexual harassment charges could cost Latvala the budget chair position for good, as well as his bid for governor.
Herron says no matter what the outcome of these anonymous allegations might be, one thing is certain. The damage is already done.
“Without a doubt.”