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Backroom Deal

State sexual misconduct settlement lacks transparency

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Sign right here, ma’am. Here’s $900,000 of taxpayer money, but you’ll never work in Tallahassee again!

That’s how Florida State Senate President William Saint “Bill” Galvano (R-Hillsborough/Manatee) settled a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission case alleging repeated sexual battery and harassment by Florida State Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Jack Latvala (R-Pasco/Pinellas), committed against Rachel Perrin Rogers, longtime chief legislative aide to Senator Wilton Simpson (R-Citrus/Hernando/Pasco).

Latvala’s sexual misconduct was exposed by Politico in 2017. Described colorfully by Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL-Dist. 1) as “an absolute hound,” Latvala’s rude, crude, demeaning and degrading public behavior was directed at six women. He allegedly offered women lobbyists legislation in exchange for sex, and touched and made comments about women’s body parts at the Capitol and in private clubs. The outcry forced him to resign in 2017 and shelve plans for a gubernatorial run.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigated, but Latvala has escaped criminal prosecution (so far). Now, alleged victim Rogers is receiving a $900,000 settlement. The catch: She is contractually forbidden to apply for or work in any Florida Senate job. The settlement effectively ends her Tallahassee political career.

Naturally, nobody there will answer any questions.

“The settlement speaks for itself,” Florida State Senate General Counsel Jeremiah Hawkes told me.

Saying he desires to “move forward,” Galvano approved the $900,000 settlement to avoid a trial—and open public court testimony by Tallahassee politicos about louche, loutish, libidinous Latvala’s routine habits and practices toward women staffers and lobbyists.

Our Florida Senate must act to:

1. Force Latvala to pay the $900,000 settlement and nearly $600,000 legal fees. Latvala’s net worth is reportedly $7.4 million.

2. Reject the settlement clause barring Rogers from ever applying to or working with the Florida State Senate again.

3. Hold public hearings.

4. Apologize to Rogers and all of the other victims.

Otherwise, there’s no remedy for Tallahassee’s toxic, hostile work environment. (As Bill Clinton said, “A right without a remedy is simply a suggestion.”)

Why does this matter? Well, it’s our money, it’s our government, and extirpating sex discrimination and ending hostile working environments is a fundamental human right. Discrimination victims have a right to a non-hostile working environment. Despite Politico’s reporting and the #MeToo movement, our Florida State Senate remains a toxic, hostile, radioactive working environment, a snakepit for ethical employees. The settlement solves none of this.

A public Senate committee hearing is required to determine who authorized the Senate’s indecent demand that Rogers never be able to apply or work for Florida’s Senate.

Rather than thank, praise and promote Rogers—and remedy Florida Senate’s toxic hostile working environment—Florida Senate’s cynical settlement treats Ms. Rogers like a leper, shaming the victim and providing a “lettuce poultice.”

My document requests were met with delay and a demand for $404.69 by the settlement’s signer, Senate General Counsel Hawkes (a failed candidate for county court judge). Hawkes’ brother, Joshua, a 2014 law graduate, was a Corcoran-appointed member of Florida’s Ethics Commission—at least for 96 days in 2018 (he resigned after receiving an Ethics Commission subpoena). They’re the sons of Tallahassee lobbyist Paul M. Hawkes, former Chief Judge of the First District Court of Appeals in Tallahassee, against whom ethics charges were dismissed as “moot” after he resigned over a $49 million “Taj Mahal” courthouse. (Florida’s Supreme Court reserved jurisdiction if Hawkes ever becomes a judge again). The senior Hawkes is also a prolific lobbyist for big business.

That’s who speaks for money and power in Tallahassee. Who will speak for Florida State Legislature employees?

How about us?

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Investigative reporter and former attorney for ethical employees, Appalachian Observer founding editor in Clinton, Tennessee, Ed Slavin has been holding governments accountable for more than 40 years. He blogs from St. Augustine.

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