Senate demands information in harassment lawsuit against Maria Sachs - Florida Politics

Senate demands information in harassment lawsuit against Maria Sachs

A federal judge has given an ex-aide to former state Sen. Maria Lorts Sachs till next Tuesday to explain why he shouldn’t provide information in his still-pending sexual harassment case.

Matthew Damsky, then 28, had sued the Florida Senate in Leon County Circuit Civil court last year on gender discrimination and retaliation charges. The 68-year-old Sachs, first elected to the Senate in 2010, declined to run for re-election last year.

Damsky, whose case was later moved to federal court in Tallahassee, claimed that she “exposed (him) to unwelcome sexual conduct” by frequently undressing in front of him. The Palm Beach County Democrat was known for her frequent wardrobe changes, particularly on long days of the legislative session.

The Senate this week filed a motion to compel discovery, the gathering of information in preparation for a possible trial, saying Damsky was nearly a month late and has “no(t) produced a single document.” It has denied liability, citing sovereign immunity, the doctrine of “unclean hands,” and other defenses. 

His attorney, Tallahassee’s Marie Mattox, had told the Senate’s lawyers her client “may dismiss the case due to difficulties with (his) criminal defense lawyer,” referring to “a criminal investigation involving Mr. Damsky.” That was not explained in a court filing, but Sachs had filed a criminal complaint into the unauthorized use of her personal credit card. 

“The Senate is under no obligation to lie in wait indefinitely for Plaintiff to act,” said its filing by Sniffen & Spellman, the chamber’s outside counsel. “Therefore, given the looming discovery deadline and Plaintiff’s counsel failure to provide any assurances her client will either respond to discovery or be produced for deposition, the Senate has no option but to move to compel.”

Mattox said she could not comment at length, but told Florida Politics she plans to file a stay of proceedings on the civil case until the criminal matter can be resolved.

Records also show the case had been referred to mediation, with a report due to Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle by Dec. 8. If the sides can’t resolve their differences, a jury trial is set to begin Feb. 20.

Damsky was let go in February 2016 when he objected to Sachs’s demands of doing her “grocery shopping, walking her dog, maintaining her relatives’ homes, and traveling cross country to assist” them, his suit says. He says he also was “ordered” to perform work for her legal practice on Senate time, including “drafting legal pleadings.”

Sachs has “categorically denied” all of his allegations, telling Florida Politics last July she believed the lawsuit was an attempt to short circuit the criminal investigation. She said Damsky admitted to charging nearly $50,000 in plane tickets on Sachs’ credit card without her knowledge, among other things.

The cost to the Senate to defend the case in court was not immediately available.

Jim Rosica covers state government from Tallahassee for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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