Ana Ceballos, Author at Florida Politics - Page 7 of 9

Ana Ceballos

Ana covers politics and policy for Florida Politics.

Before joining Florida Politics, she was the legislative relief reporter for The Associated Press and covered policy issues impacting immigration, the environment, criminal justice and social welfare in Florida.

She holds a B.A. in journalism from San Diego State University. After graduating in 2014, she worked as a criminal justice reporter for the Monterey Herald and the Monterey County Weekly. She has also freelanced for The Washington Post at the U.S.-Mexico border covering crime in the border city of Tijuana, where she grew up. Ana is fluent in Spanish and has intermediate proficiency in Portuguese.

Javier Fernandez files for Daisy Baez’s House seat

Javier Fernandez, a 42-year-old South Miami attorney, filed his candidacy on Tuesday to represent House District 114, and replace Daisy Baez.

Baez resigned from the Legislature this month after a House investigation into and even criminal case over her residency.

“I’m excited for this opportunity to bring much-needed change to Tallahassee, where priorities have become badly out of step with the voters,” said Fernandez, a first-time candidate for office.

Fernandez said he wants to enact common-sense solutions for rising sea levels that already pose a threat to areas across Miami-Dade.

Javier is married to Dr. Anna Maria Patino-Fernandez, a clinical child psychologist, according to a release. “They have two children, Susanna and Lucas.”

Jack Latvala’s attorney wants Lizbeth Benacquisto to recuse herself from probe

Sen. Jack Latvala‘s legal team said Monday that Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, who chairs the Senate Rules Committee where a complaint was filed against the Clearwater Republican, should recuse herself from the Senate sexual harassment investigation because she violated the chamber’s privacy rules.

“Senator Benacquisto’s public comment regarding the alleged complaint is a material breach of the Senate Rules and mandates her disqualification from any further involvement in the investigation and/or disposition of any complaint against Senator Latvala,” Steve Andrews said in a letter to Senate President Joe Negron, first obtained by Florida Politics.

Andrews is citing a Capitol News Service video interview last week in which Benacquisto acknowledged a confidential complaint had been filed with the Rules Committee. The news report was explicitly in the context of the sexual harassment allegations against Latvala, and Benacquisto said “I have” when asked if she had received a sworn complaint.

A day later, Senate President Joe Negron’s office said that due to privacy rules Benacquisto would not — and had not — identified the subject of the complaint.

Katie Betta, a Senate spokesperson, said Negron is not planning on asking Benacquisto to recuse herself from the probe because he does not believe she violated the rules. Betta maintained Benacquisto only confirmed a complaint had been filed with her committee and did not disclose the identity of the accused.

Tiffany Cruz, a Tallahassee-based attorney who is representing a woman in The Process who claims to have been sexually harassed by Latvala, said the complaint was filed with the Rules Committee on Nov. 5 — days after six anonymous women claimed in a POLITICO Florida report that they had been inappropriately touched by the powerful senator, who is also a Republican gubernatorial candidate.

Latvala has denied all sexual misconduct allegations against him. He also said he has asked Benacquisto for a copy of the complaint, but has yet to receive it.

“(Benacquisto’s) comments in themselves were a violation of the Senate’s Rules,” Latvala told Florida Politics. “She announced it in the media but I have still not been notified that I am the subject of a complaint. Five days later.”

Cruz, however, said she has notified Latvala’s legal team about her client’s complaint.

Personnel note: Emily L. Mahoney joining Times/Herald capital bureau

Emily L. Mahoney, who recently did investigative work for the Miami Herald during a 10-week summer internship, has been hired to cover the state Legislature for the Tampa Bay Times as part of the combined Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee bureau.

Mahoney is currently finishing up the Cronkite Data Fellowship with the Houston Chronicle and will be starting the new job early in January – just in time for Session.

“I’m thrilled to be heading back to Florida to write for two publications I greatly respect and to work on stories with impact and value,” Mahoney told Florida Politics.

“It’s an important time to be covering state politics and I can’t wait to get started,” she added.

Mahoney’s work has been published in more than 25 publication in the country, including the Center for Public Integrity and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

She got a graduate degree in mass communication this May from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

Mahoney says her proudest work involves data analysis of public records to investigate government officials, agencies and law enforcement.

Her website is here.

Attorneys in Jack Latvala probe start building strategies

The attorney representing a woman who filed a sexual harassment complaint against Sen. Jack Latvala says she has not discarded the possibility of taking the case to court if a conflict of interest arises in the Senate investigation.

“Anything could happen at this point, it is still very early to tell,” Tallahassee-based attorney Tiffany Cruz told Florida Politics.

Steve Andrews, who represents the Clearwater Republican, however, wants to work with the Senate’s lead investigator, Tampa-based attorney Gail Holtzman, to keep that from happening.

“We want to work out the procedural process with her without getting the courts involved,” Andrews said.

With Holtzman at the helm, Andrews is at ease even though he initially wanted to have a former law enforcement official lead the probe to referee conflicting testimony. He is also not worried of Holtzman having a conflict of interest in the case and said that those who think there is one because she is from Tampa — the same region as Latvala — are “stupid.”

“I think this girl will do a good job and she will be remembered,” Andrews said.

With all sides lawyered up, specifics continue to be ironed out. First on the list for Andrews is making sure due process protections are in place for Latvala, who has denied all the sexual misconduct allegations raised against him by six anonymous women in a POLITICO Florida report. Andrews worries the Senate has “no rules” in place when it comes to handling interviews with potential accusers.

Cruz declined to give specifics about her handling of the case, and would not say whether more women in The Process have reached out to her about filing complaints against Latvala.

Meanwhile, Latvala’s defense team is using strategies that include having the powerful senator take a lie-detector test and taking sworn video statements from more than 10 women, including lobbyists and staffers, who think favorably of the gubernatorial candidate’s character and behavior. This is something a number of women, who have worked closely with Latvala over the years, have done since the claims came to light.

It remains unclear exactly how the polygraph test, in which Latvala denies “intentionally” touching women inappropriately, will work in the defense. But Andrews believes it helps debunk the anonymous claims. The scientific community, though, has said polygraph tests are flawed for some years, and the tests are not always admissible in court.

According to the test results, Latvala was “being truthful” when he said he didn’t intentionally touch a woman’s private parts, touched a woman’s breasts or buttocks at the Capitol,  or rubbed a Senate staffer’s leg.

“(We) had to put the word intentionally in there, because the question there is, was there negligence?” Andrews said. “There has to be an intentional component to it.”

Cruz declined to comment whether she would consent to the test results’ submission as evidence in  the case.

After generator rule deadline passes, AHCA’s tactic draws confusion

A day after the Agency for Health Care Administration was criticized for erroneously claiming in a press release that five nursing home facilities had not met a key deadline in Gov. Rick Scott’s emergency generator rule, the agency said it prompted an “excellent result” with facilities submitting their information.

The Florida Health Care Association, though, said it just added confusion to the process.

Emmett Reed, the executive director of the FHCA, an organization that represent most of the 683 nursing homes in the state, also said AHCA chose to use the media as “a vehicle to release unfavorable information about nursing homes that are in fact working to comply” with Scott’s rule.

AHCA initially said in the press release that 23 nursing homes had failed to submit their emergency plan by Oct. 31, a violation of Scott’s rule. While the rule has been successfully challenged in administrative court, AHCA is appealing it, meaning the rule is still in place and nursing homes that don’t comply with deadlines could be fined.

Despite the tactic being criticized by nursing home groups, Molly McKinstry, the deputy secretary of AHCA, said the information that was published “had an excellent result.”

“We’ve had many facilities submitting information — I think in many cases they were in compliance and had not done the proper notification,” McKinstry said during a House Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness on Thursday.

After the statement was released, the state agency corrected the list on its website, but did not send out the corrected version of the list to media. The list now has 18 facilities that have not complied with the rule.

The state’s Department of Elder Affairs, which is carrying out Scott’s rule as well, was also slammed for following a similar strategy. The DOEA released a list naming assisted-living facilities that were reportedly non responsive to the rule’s deadline. Steve Bahmer, the president and CEO of LeadingAge Florida, said the list would likely be “fraught with errors.”

“As our members continue to work in good faith toward achieving the Governor’s goal, the release of these lists, both of which contained inaccurate information, demonstrates that there continues to be significant confusion surrounding this issue,” Bahmer said.

LeadingAge Florida is one of the associations that challenged Scott’s rule in administrative court.

Ashley Chambers, a spokesperson with the DOEA, said there was good coming out of the list because “it encouraged people to call in.”

Chambers added the department has taken calls from people who claimed they shouldn’t have been on the list, and that the department is working to put the most accurate information out as they verify those claims.

The emergency generator rule was implemented days after eight nursing home residents initially died in the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills when Hurricane Irma hit. There are now 14 deaths at this facility, which lost power and its cooling system crashing during the storm.

Scott’s rule requires nursing homes and assisted-living facilities in the state to have generators capable of maintaining comfortable temperatures for at least four days in case of a power outage.

Facilities that are not in compliance with Scott’s rule face a $1,000 fine for each day they don’t meet the requirement, a detail that concerned Rep. MaryLynn Magar, a Tequesta Republican, who is aware that the rule is being challenged in administrative court.

When asked if fines would be reimbursed if AHCA’s appeal is thrown out, McKinstry said facilities would have the option to challenge the fines, if imposed.

“It is not our intent to impose the sanctions, but unfortunately that sometimes creates a motivation,” McKinstry said.

Personnel note: Arek Sarkissian to join POLITICO Florida

Arek Sarkissian, the chief of the one-man Tallahassee bureau for the Naples Daily News, announced Friday he will be joining POLITICO Florida early next month to cover medical marijuana and gambling.

“The Team of POLITICO Florida is fearless in reporting Florida’s government,” Sarkissian told Florida Politics. “They exemplify the dogged reporting this state’s journalism is known for, and I’m extremely fortunate they asked me to join them.

Sarkissian has covered the Legislature since 2012.

He started with the Tallahassee Democrat, where he wrote about budget woes of the state prison system and labor issues, and in following years he did work for LobbyTools and The Gainesville Sun before being hired at NDN.

Sarkissian will join POLITICO’s six-person team Dec. 4.








Senate hires Tampa attorney for Jack Latvala investigation

The Senate has retained the Jackson Lewis law firm for its investigation into sexual harassment and groping allegations against Sen. Jack Latvala, a top Republican in the chamber.


Tampa-based attorney Gail Holtzman will be the lead attorney in the investigation, and Senate President Joe Negron said individuals who want to come forward with complaints against the powerful senator may contact her starting tomorrow.

“The Senate has zero tolerance for sexual harassment, sexual assault, or misconduct of any kind,” Negron said. “I encourage anyone with any information regarding the anonymous allegations to contact Ms. Holtzman.”

Negron said sexual harassment victims’ information will be confidential.

The Senate coordinated with the Office of Legislative Services (OLS) to find independent law firms that could handle the case.

This came after Senate General Counsel Dawn Roberts, who was initially tapped to lead the investigation, recused herself from the probe citing a potential conflict of interest. Roberts once worked as the staff director for a Senate committee Latvala chaired.

The OLS gave Negron a list of five potential law firms on Wednesday so that he could review them and see if there were any potential conflicts of interest raised.

One of the firms—Allen, Norton & Blue—was flagged as a “perceived conflict” by Negron because it served as the chief negotiator for the state when doing collective bargaining.

As Latvala is under investigation he has retained Tallahassee-based attorney Steve Andrews, who has represented embattled senators in the past.

Latvala has denied all allegations against him and in a surprising move, reported by Florida Politics Thursday, he took a lie-detector test where he addressed three sexual harassment allegations raised by a POLITICO Florida news report last week.

According to the polygraph test, Latvala was “truthful.”

It remains unclear if any formal complaints have been filed against Latvala since the report came out, but Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto said Thursday a complaint has been filed to the Rules Committee. She declined to name who it was against because of privacy rules.

Jack Latvala says he passed polygraph over harassment claims

If you ask Sen. Jack Latvala questions about the sexual harassment allegations against him, he’ll tell you no lies — at least according to a lie-detector test he took Wednesday.

Latvala’s attorney, criminal defense attorney, Steve Andrews, told Florida Politics that the Clearwater Republican took and passed a polygraph performed by a former chief examiner for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

In a sworn statement and under penalty of perjury, Latvala said that at no time did he “ever intentionally touch a female’s private areas such as her buttocks, lower frontal abdomen, or breasts in a crowded Senate elevator.”

Latvala said he never used his “body to block the view of my hands while I rubbed the leg of a female Senate staffer while she cried” and that he never “intentionally touch(ed) the breast of a female or cup a woman’s ass in the Capitol Rotunda against her will.”

Those were the three allegations, detailed in the POLITICO Florida report, that he addressed in the polygraph test.

According to the test results obtained by Florida Politics, Latvala was “not deceptive” when asked about claims that he sexually harassed six women. It is important to note, though, that polygraph tests have been considered flawed and debunked of value in detecting lies by some in the scientific community.

While they continue to be used in non-judicial settings, most psychologist and scientists agree that there is little basis for the polygraph tests being valid, according to the American Psychological Association.

Results of polygraph tests are admissible in Florida courts if all parties involved in a case consent to the test results’ submission as evidence.

Since the report came out, detailing the accounts of six anonymous women who say the Republican gubernatorial candidate harassed and groped them, Latvala has lost his seat as Senate Budget Chair.

An investigation into the claims has also been opened by Senate President Joe Negron who is still in search of a third-party investigator to head the probe.


Senate privacy rules shield details on Rules Committee complaint

As Sen. Jack Latvala faces an investigation into sexual harassment allegations against him, not much is clear, including specifics about a complaint filed with the Senate Rules Committee.

This much is known: Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, the chair of the committee, at first confirmed a complaint had been filed with her committee in a Capitol News Service interview about the sexual harassment allegations looming over Latvala.

A day later, Benacquisto denied confirming the complaint was against Latvala. But she did say a complaint had been filed.

“Chair Benacquisto did not, and will not, confirm that the complaint is regarding any specific Senator, officer of lobbyist,” Senate spokesperson Katie Betta said.

Benacquisto cannot release specifics about the complaints her committee receives because of privacy rules, and Betta declined to say when exactly the committee got the complaint.

Latvala was surprised when he heard the Capitol News Service report. He told Florida Politics he only became aware of it after reporter Mike Vasilinda called him about it, which prompted Latvala to call Benacquisto three times in a four-hour span.

By 10 p.m. Wednesday, he hadn’t heard back.

“Incredible the Rules Chair would blame me for (the complaint’s) failure to be released, but not acknowledge its existence to me!” Latvala said.

Latvala has hired Tallahassee criminal defense attorneys Steve Andrews and Stephen Webster as he faces the allegations, first reported by POLITICO Florida. The probe has already cost the Clearwater Republican his Senate Appropriations chairmanship, at least while the investigation is pending.

As claims continue to cloud Latvala’s reputation, Andrews has asked Senate President Joe Negron to have a retired judge preside over any hearings and that testimony be under oath.

Andrews also wants Negron to have a former law enforcement official conduct the investigation.

The Senate has yet to announce who will be conducting the harassment investigation, but Betta said the list of potential investigators may be ready by the end of the day Thursday.

Complaint filed with Senate Rules Committee against Jack Latvala

A rules complaint was filed Wednesday against Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who is under investigation by the Senate after six unnamed women accused him of sexually harassing and groping them.

Because the complaint is initially confidential, the details about what it pertains are unclear.

Republican Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, who chairs the Rules Committee where the complaint was filed, acknowledged the complaint in an interview with Capitol News Service, but could provide additional information.

Benacquisto said she can’t release details about the complaint without Latvala giving her the green light.

Latvala told Florida Politics on Wednesday he had been trying to get ahold of Benacquisto for several hours, but she has not returned his calls.

“Incredible the Rules Chair would blame me for (the complaint’s) failure to be released, but not acknowledge its existence to me!” Latvala said.

Latvala said he only became aware of the complaint because a reporter called him at noon about it. The gubernatorial candidate has denied all allegations against him and has threatened to sue POLITICO over the report.

Senate President Joe Negron has launched an investigation into the report’s claims that detail Latvala sexually harassing and groping six women while he was in office.

The allegations, first reported by POLITICO Florida, have already cost him his Budget Chairmanship — at least while the investigation into the claims is ongoing.

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