Jack Latvala Archives - Florida Politics

Hearing set in Senate discrimination case

A federal judge has scheduled a hearing Nov. 30 in a case filed by the Florida Senate after allegations by a legislative aide that she was a victim of sexual harassment and retaliation.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle this week scheduled the hearing after canceling arguments that had been planned for Nov. 8, according to an online docket.

Legislative aide Rachel Perrin Rogers filed a discrimination complaint in January with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The Senate filed a lawsuit in Hinkle’s court seeking a preliminary injunction to block an administrative law judge from requiring the Senate’s participation in the EEOC case.

The Senate contends, in part, that it is protected by the legal doctrine of sovereign immunity, though EEOC lawyers are fighting the Senate on the issue.

In canceling the scheduled Nov. 8 hearing, Hinkle pointed to questions about whether he or an appeals court should consider the matter. He said he wanted to allow time for both sides to file briefs on the “jurisdiction” issue. Perrin Rogers was at the center of a sexual-harassment investigation late last year that led to the resignation of powerful Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican.

Perrin Rogers alleged that Latvala harassed her, triggering the Senate to appoint a special master to investigate the accusations. The special master, former state appellate Judge Ronald Swanson, found probable cause to support Perrin Rogers’ allegations — though Latvala has steadfastly denied them.

Perrin Rogers, an aide to Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican, subsequently filed the EEOC complaint against the Senate, alleging in part that she faced retaliation.

Ed Hooper puts breaks on ‘blue wave’ in Amanda Murphy upset

Former State Representative Ed Hooper narrowly beat Amanda Murphy in an upset for the “blue wave” Democrats were hoping for.

Hooper won 52 to 48 percent in the race for Senate District 16.

Murphy issued a statement concession statement about an hour after the polls closed Tuesday evening.

“I want to thank our incredible team for their hard work and dedication throughout this campaign,” she said. “Our message was always that we can accomplish so much more when we work together than when we lean into those things which divide us. While tonight’s results are obviously disappointing, I am grateful for the opportunity I have had to speak with so many incredible people over the last year. I wish Ed Hooper the best as our next State Senator.”

The Clearwater swing district leans conservative, but it’s a narrow gap between Republicans and Democrats. Republicans make up about 38 percent of the district’s electorate while Democrats account for about a third. The district went plus-12 for Trump in 2016.

The heated race saw outside spending pouring in from both Democratic and conservative groups.

Groups supporting Hooper blasted voters with negative ads in television, digital and mail ads. The attacks mirrored those against other Democrats, seeking to tie Murphy to what they describe as “radical socialist” ideas and politicians including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Gillum.

One direct mail piece showed an image of a little girl crying saying Murphy “behaves like a spoiled child” next to it and on the back that she “throws a fit when she doesn’t get her way.”

Some saw the attack as sexist. Voters are typically turned off from negative campaigning and, particularly in the age of the “Me Too” and “Time’s Up” movements, which Democrats hoped would drive more women and younger voters to the polls to upset Hooper.

Turnout demographic analysis in the coming days will reveal whether that was the case.

The Senate seat was previously occupied by longtime politician Jack Latvala who resigned earlier this year amid allegations of sexual abuse. That could have been another kick to Hooper’s chances of winning as voters, particularly younger voters, sought to put more female representation into political offices.

Hooper outspent Murphy by more than double, giving him powerful buying power in one of Florida’s closest races. Hooper brought in well over $1 million in the race, campaign finance records show.

Hooper formerly served in the Florida House of Representatives. His victory comes after being bested by Pat Gerard in a 2014 bid for Pinellas County Commission.

Murphy also served in the Florida House, but lost her seat to Republican Amber Mariano in a close race separated by fewer than 700 votes.

Chris Latvala’s not expecting to ‘shellack’ his opponent

State Rep. Chris Latvala is not taking any chances, but feels good about his re-election campaign. 

“We’re working hard and we have been for months,” Latvala said. “This is considered a swing district so I’ve never taken anything for granted.”

Latvala’s House District 67 encompasses north Pinellas, including parts of Clearwater. The Republican incumbent is running against Democrat political newcomer Dawn Douglas, a reading teacher at Oak Grove Middle School.

Latvala has three things going for him. He’s the incumbent, which makes bouncing him from his seat a difficult feat, and he has broad name recognition from his own political service as well as from his father, former Sen. Jack Latvala.

But those two advantages could be upended in a contentious midterm cycle in which Republicans who would have otherwise been safe bets for easy victories are facing credible challenges.

Midterm election cycles typically serve as a referendum on the party in power in Washington, which is making some Republican seats vulnerable.

And Latvala having the same name as his father could also be an issue. Jack Latvala resigned from office last year amid sexual misconduct allegations. A criminal investigation against him was later dropped.

That’s not a great association in the era of #MeToo.

But Latvala’s prime advantage comes with dollar signs. He’s raised nearly more than $900,000 between his campaign and associated political committee, Suncoast Better Government Committee. Douglas has raised less than $5,300 in her campaign through Oct. 19.

Latvala’s district is split almost exactly in thirds between Republicans, Democrats and independent or no-party-affiliated voters.

Latvala said he’s knocked on more than 35,000 doors in the district and is targeting voters who have not yet voted and who could be swayed to the polls in his favor.

“I’m feeling confident,” he said. “But it’s not going to be a double-digit shellacking.”

While Latvala says he’s working hard on his campaign, he’s also been on three bills he plans to file during the 2019 Legislative Session if re-elected.

One is a bill he filed this year that didn’t gain traction. It would extend health care coverage for retired firefighters who develop cancer as a result of their work. It’s a bill Latvala said he will continue to file until it passes.

Another is Erin’s Law, a measure that would provide robust training in public schools on how to educate students on the dangers of sexual, physical and emotional abuse. The idea is to give children the knowledge of what is and is not appropriate behavior so they can report abuse instead of waiting for years until they realize the actions against them are wrong.

The third bill is in response to the death of Jordan Belliveau, the 2-year-old girl who was found dead after a search in Largo, which Latvala’s district includes. Belliveau appears to have been failed by Florida’s child welfare system by being returned to her mother’s custody.

Latvala’s legislation would do a number of things to improve that system including funding for more caseworkers so they don’t have an overburdened caseload and better resources for intensive reunification, which would include frequent check-ins by caseworkers to ensure child safety.

It would also include training for anyone involved in child welfare to learn how to identify possible brain injuries in children that could go otherwise unnoticed.

“I guess I just figure, if I work hard at my job, the campaign will just take care of itself,” Latvala said.

Judge sets arguments in Senate discrimination case

A federal judge has scheduled arguments Nov. 8 on a request by the Florida Senate to shield it from a discrimination case filed by a legislative aide who alleges she was a victim of sexual harassment and retaliation.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle will hear arguments on a Senate request for a preliminary injunction in the case involving aide Rachel Perrin Rogers, who filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in January.

Lawyers for the Senate are seeking the injunction to block an administrative judge from requiring the Senate’s participation in the EEOC case.

The Senate contends, in part, that it is protected by the legal doctrine of sovereign immunity.

“As part of the state of Florida’s legislative branch, the Florida Senate enjoys immunity from suit by Florida citizens unless it waives immunity or Congress validly abrogates it,” Senate attorneys argued in a motion filed Oct. 10. “Neither exception applies here.”

Perrin Rogers was at the center of a sexual-harassment investigation late last year that led to the resignation of powerful Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater. Perrin Rogers alleged that Latvala harassed her, triggering the Senate to appoint a special master to investigate the accusations.

The special master, former appellate Judge Ronald Swanson, found probable cause to support Perrin Rogers’ allegations — though Latvala has steadfastly denied them. Perrin Rogers, an aide to Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican, subsequently filed the EEOC complaint against the Senate, alleging in part that she faced retaliation.

Republican candidates say ‘nope’ to local environmental forum

Local Republican candidates in state legislative races won’t be showing up to a candidate forum Wednesday hosted by ReThinkEnergy Florida, the First Street Foundation, Oceana and the League of Women Voters.

The coalition of groups is hosting an environmental forum at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Clearwater Wednesday at 6 p.m. to discuss sea level rise, flood risk and red tide.

State Senate District 16 candidate Amanda Murphy, Senate District 24 candidate Lindsay Cross, House District 65 candidate Sally Laufer, House District 66 candidate Alex Heeren and House District 67 candidate Dawn Douglas, all Democrats, confirmed they would attend.

None of their opponents are planning to attend. Some did not respond to the invitation; others said they had scheduling conflicts, according to forum organizers. 

Of all the races, the environment has been the biggest issue in Cross’s race against incumbent Jeff Brandes. Cross, an environmental scientist by trade, has been hammering down on Republican policies and deregulation she says contributes to polluted waters and is likely fueling this year’s massive red tide bloom.

Brandes also did not attend a previous forum with the Disston Heights Neighborhood Association. He said he had a family conflict.

Murphy is running against former State Legislator Ed Hooper in what has become a heated campaign. A third-party group recently sent out a mailer calling Murphy a spoiled child with an image of a little girl crying.

The two are vying for the north Pinellas Senate seat vacated by former Senator Jack Latvala who resigned amid sexual misconduct allegations.

Laufer, Heeren and Douglas are running lower-profile races.

Laufer, a retired nurse, is running against incumbent Chris Sprowls who is in line to be Speaker of the House in 2021 if Republicans maintain control of the state’s lower chamber.

Heeren, a former public school teacher, is running against Nick Diceglie who formerly served as chair of the Pinellas Republican Executive Committee.

Douglas is a former chair of the Pinellas Classroom Teacher Association’s government relations committee. She’s running against incumbent Chris Latvala.

Chris Hunter, the Democrat challenging Gus Bilirakis for his long-held Congressional 12 district in north Pinellas, is also scheduled to attend.

Pinellas County Commission candidate Amy Kedron will also attend. Her opponent, Republican Representative Kathleen Peters, will not.

Three Pinellas County School board candidates — Jeff Larson, Peggy O’Shea and Nicole Carr — will also attend, though it’s not clear what they have to offer to a conversation about environmental policy short of mitigation efforts for coastal schools and other district property.

Environmental policy has become a linchpin issue this election, particularly in Pinellas County, because red tide continues to plague Florida’s Gulf Coast. Democrats are blaming Republican policies for worsening the naturally-occurring phenomenon as well as failing to address negative environmental effects associated with climate change.

Republicans rail against those claims, pointing to several spending bills that fund red tide research and policies to clean up Lake Okeechobee, one of the state’s most prominent polluting factors.

The money race: Ed Hooper double-plus over Amanda Murphy

Republican Ed Hooper continues to out-raise his Democratic opponent, Amanda Murphy, in the battle to replace former state Sen. Jack Latvala for Senate District 16 (north Pinellas County).

Hooper has raised more than $1.1 million between his campaign and affiliated political committee.

Murphy has raised just $445,000 between her campaign and Taxpayers for Responsible Government political committee.

That’s not including fundraising from Working Toward Florida’s Future, an inactive political committee whose funds were used for campaign activities benefiting Murphy and distributions to the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee that support Murphy.

From Oct. 6-12, the most recent campaign reporting period, Hooper’s campaign raised $72,000 and his committee raised $6,500. Murphy’s committee out-raised Hooper’s with $30,000 in contributions. Her campaign raised just $15,000 during the most recent campaign period.

Fundraising trends among Democrats and Republicans continue to hold true in the SD 16 race with Hooper raking in cash from outside groups and special interests including from the sugar, pharmaceutical and insurance industries.

Hooper’s campaign collected 57 individual contributions averaging more than $800 each. Murphy brought in 44 contributions averaging $341 each.

Hooper’s campaign spent more than $160,000 during the most recent report with most of that going to Strategic Media Placement for ads and $22,000 to Direct Mail Systems for mailers.

An outside group supporting Hooper, the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, put out an ad earlier this month calling Murphy a “spoiled child.” Some Democrats criticized that ad for being sexist. Hooper declined to comment on the ad.

His campaign has spent $577,000 to date.

Murphy’s latest spending mirrors her fundraising lag compared to Hooper with $28,000 spent from her campaign coffers this report. Most of that went to Deliver Strategies for campaign mailers.

The district includes Clearwater, Dunedin, New Port Richey, Oldsmar, Safety Harbor and Palm Harbor.

The race is considered competitive. A St. Pete Polls survey in June put the race at 47-45 percent with Hooper holding the advantage, though his edge falls within the poll’s 3 percentage point margin of error.

SD 16 is, however, a “red” district. Republicans make up about 38 percent of the district’s electorate while Democrats account for about a third. The district went plus-12 for Trump in 2016.

Murphy lost her previously held House district by fewer than 700 votes to now-Republican Rep. Amber Mariano. The race was considered a huge loss for Democrats despite the narrow majority in a district that went against Hillary Clinton in 2016 by double digits.

Hooper left the house to run for Pinellas County Commission in 2014. He lost to Democrat Pat Gerard who was re-elected this election cycle unopposed.

SD 16 - Hooper vs. Murphy

Ed Hooper leads Amanda Murphy by a hair in SD 16 dogfight

Former Republican Rep. Ed Hooper and Former Democratic Rep. Amanda Murphy are locked in a dogfight according to a new poll of the race for open Senate District 16 seat.

The St. Pete Polls survey, conducted Oct. 18, found Hopper leading Murphy by a basket 19 days out from the election, 48-46 percent with 6 percent undecided. His 2-point lead among SD 16 voters shrinks to just six-tenths of a point, however, among the 36 percent who said they’ve already cast their ballot.

The Clearwater Republican is also up a deuce over his New Port Richey rival among the yet-to-vote crowd, which favored him 47-45 percent. Those voters were the most undecided, with 8 percent saying they hadn’t decided which of the two former lawmakers would earn their vote.

The topline results in the new poll are almost unmoved from where they were a month ago, when Hooper led Murphy 47-45 percent in the Tampa Bay area scrap.

The consistency in the topline numbers belies a few shifts in the senate scrum since that measure.

Hooper and Murphy have both improved among their party’s base, an important accomplishment for Hooper especially, Murphy was peeling away a fifth of Republicans in the prior poll. He’s lost ground among independents, however, who have started to skew more heavily toward the Democrat.

A month ago, Murphy held a 46-41 percent lead among unaffiliated and no-party voters. That lead has more than doubled to a 52-39 percent spread in the interim, heavily augmenting her base in a district where Republicans make up a strong plurality of the electorate.

White voters have been steady in giving a slim edge to Hooper, whom they favored 48-44 percent with 19 days to go until Election Day.

Murphy is still racking up big leads among the handful of black and Hispanic voters polled, though non-Hispanic whites make up 85 percent of the district’s voting age population, and redistricting data shows those voters tend to made up an even larger share of those who make it to the polls.

A full third of white voters said they’ve already cast their ballot.

Hooper has also improved his standing among women, who now prefer him over Murphy by 5 points, 49-44 percent. That step forward was coupled with a backslide among med — Murphy has improved from a 7-point underdog among those voters into a virtual tie at 47 percent all.

Millennials, Gen Xers are still leaning toward Hooper by a material margin although he and Murphy are grappling for supremacy among older voters, who make up a much larger share of the electorate and tend to punch above their weight at the ballot box.

There’s are virtually tie among voters aged 50 to 65, the largest age bracket in the district, while the 70-plus crowd has started gravitating toward Murphy by a statistically significant 51-45 percent margin.

The push poll received 816 responses from registered voters who said they were voting in the Nov. 6 general election. The sample was 41 percent Republican, one-third Democrat and 26 percent independent. The topline results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

Though Hooper has held on to a slim in the last couple St. Pete Polls surveys, his inability to muster up an outside-the-margin edge indicates SD 16 voters will make a marked shift toward the Democrats this cycle.

That shift could be due to the now 10-month interregnum since SD 16 voters last had a representative — the seat was last held by Republican Sen. Jack Latvala, who was a vocal Hooper supporter and considered an asset in his Senate campaign before he resigned late last year amid accusations of sexual misconduct.

Additionally, Murphy has shown an unprecedented ability to lull GOP voters in each of her three elections. In a 2013 special election, she took over for exiting Republican Rep. Mike Fasano — with his blessing, no less — and won re-election to a full term the following year.

In 2016, she was booted from office by now-Republican Rep. Amber Mariano in one of the closest state House races in recent history. In spite of President Donald Trump winning the Pasco-based House seat in a 20-point landslide, the Murpy-Mariano contest came down to to just 691 votes, or 0.6 percent.

While SD 16 is essentially an even-money race when it comes to the odds, Hooper and Murphy are nowhere near even in the fundraising race.

As of Oct. 5, Hooper had raked in more than $900,000 for his comeback bid, including $600,000 in hard money and another $300,000-plus in committee cash via Friends of Ed Hooper, not to mention the substantial “in-kind” support he’s received from the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, a cash rich party affiliated committee helmed by incoming Senate President Bill Galvano. Hooper has $421,000 in the bank.

For her part, Murphy has collected $116,500 in hard money and another $276,300 in soft via her two PACs — Working Towards Florida’s Future and Taxpayers for Responsible Government. She had a relatively lean $55,540 banked between the three accounts on Oct. 5.

SD 16 covers northern Pinellas County and southwestern Pasco County, including Clearwater, Dunedin, Safety Harbor, Palm Harbor, New Port Richey and Oldsmar. Republicans make up about 38 percent of the district’s electorate, while Democrats make up about a third. Two years ago, President Donald Trump carried the district by 12 points.

Ed Hooper rakes in corporate cash for SD 16 bid

Former state Rep. Ed Hooper grew his campaign and committee coffers to more than $900,000 during the most recent campaign finance reporting period, covering Sept. 29-Oct. 5.

The Republican state Senate candidate’s fundraising more than doubles his opponent’s: Amanda Murphy’s campaign and affiliated committees together have brought in $393,000.

Hooper’s campaign raised $48,000 during the latest reporting period. His committee, Friends of Ed Hooper, raised $13,000.

The two candidates are facing off in a battle to replace former state Sen. Jack Latvala in Senate District 16. He resigned earlier this year amid sexual misconduct allegations.

SD 16 covers parts of Pasco and Pinellas counties, including Clearwater, Dunedin, New Port Richey, Oldsmar, Safety Harbor and Palm Harbor.

Fundraising trends between the two campaigns mirror that of other state matchups where Republicans are far out-raising their Democratic candidates.

Democrats, including Murphy, are raising funds locally through smaller dollar gifts while Republicans are relying on special interests and outside groups for high-dollar contributions.

Hooper raked in money from the pharmaceutical industry with giants like Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly and Co. and Bristol-Myers Squibb making large-dollar contributions to his campaign.

Hooper also received cash from entities affiliated with Walt Disney World, beer distributors and the auto manufacturing and sales industry.

Hooper’s campaign brought in 65 individual contributions during the latest reporting period, with those averaging $738 each.

Meanwhile, most of Murphy’s contributions came from Tampa Bay area residents. Her campaign received 54 contributions averaging $352 each.

Murphy tapped contributions from teacher’s and ironworker’s unions and the Flippable Florida Victory Fund created to push the so-called “blue wave.”

Hooper spent $15,000 this report with most of that going to Direct Mail Systems for campaign mailers. His committee did not report any recent expenses.

Murphy spent $19,000 this report with $17,000 of that going to Tallahassee-based VancoreJones Communications for consulting. Her committee spent $39,000, but not for campaigning activity. The fund made payouts to other groups including Emily’s List, Flippable Florida Victory Fund and Sensible Gun Laws Now.

Hooper had a combined $421,000 banked at the end of the reporting period, while Murphy had a relatively lean $55,540 banked between her three accounts.

Murphy lost her previously held House district by fewer than 700 votes to now-Republican Rep. Amber Mariano. The race was considered a huge loss for Democrats despite the narrow majority in a district that went against Hillary Clinton in 2016 by double digits.

Hooper left the house to run for Pinellas County Commission in 2014. He lost to Democrat Pat Gerard.

The race is considered competitive. A St. Pete Polls survey in June put the race at 47-45 percent with Hooper holding the advantage, though his edge falls within the poll’s 3 percentage point margin of error.

SD 16 is, however, a “red” district. Republicans make up about 38 percent of the district’s electorate while Democrats account for about a third. The district went plus-12 for Trump in 2016.

State Senate now suing to stop federal harassment probe

A federal judge has set a hearing for next Tuesday in the state Senate‘s lawsuit to put an end to an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) investigation into a top aide’s sexual harassment and retaliation claims.

Rachel Perrin Rogers, chief assistant to Senate Republican Leader and future Senate President Wilton Simpson, says former Sen. Jack Latvala repeatedly groped her and made unwelcome comments about her body over a four-year period.

The Senate’s legal complaint, filled earlier this month, counters that “the ongoing EEOC action violates the Florida Senate’s sovereign and constitutional rights,” including “violat(ing) the Senate’s sovereign immunity.”

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. The Senate is first seeking a “temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction” to suspend that inquiry.

But Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle faulted the Senate’s lawyers for not giving any notice of that request to Perrin Rogers herself.

“The Senate should take note (that) the likelihood that preliminary relief will be granted without giving Ms. Perrin Rogers notice and an opportunity to be heard is low,” he wrote Monday.

The hearing next Tuesday is for “only matters of timing and procedure, not matters of substance, (and) the conference will be conducted entirely by telephone,” Hinkle wrote.

He said “attorneys for all parties must confer … in a good faith effort to reach agreement on the scheduling of a hearing on the motion for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction and on other procedural and substantive issues.”

Perrin Rogers first lodged harassment allegations last year against Latvala, the once-powerful Senate Appropriations Committee chair and Republican gubernatorial candidate from Clearwater.

An internal Senate investigation led to a special master’s report finding probable cause to support the allegations. Latvala resigned Dec. 19. A separate criminal probe ended in July without any charges being brought.

Perrin Rogers since filed a complaint with the EEOC, saying she was the victim of discrimination and retaliation after she came forward. Her case has been assigned to EEOC Administrative Law Judge Alexander Fernandez.

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Updated 2 p.m. — Holland & Knight attorney Tara Price, outside counsel for the Senate, told the court Tuesday her client “did not name Ms. Perrin Rogers as a defendant out of respect for and as a courtesy to her.

“(The Senate) did not think it appropriate — and indeed, thought it would be heavy handed and inappropriate — to seek … relief against Ms. Perrin Rogers as a private citizen …

“However, (the Senate) has no objection to Ms. Perrin Rogers appearing before the court and participating in this action in whatever manner the court deems appropriate … Also, (the Senate) has already taken steps to alert” all of the defendants in the case, Price said.

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Orlando correspondent Scott Powers, Tallahassee correspondent Danny McAuliffe, and Senior Editor Jim Rosica contributed to this post.

Forget Brett Kavanaugh; Florida facing its own ‘Supreme’ drama — in triplicate

While the nation was fixated on the drama surrounding Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, Floridians were reminded this week that they have their own Supreme Court controversy in triplicate.

Gov. Rick Scott reasserted his claim in court that he has the power, before he leaves office in January, to appoint replacements for three Florida Supreme Court justices who have reached a mandatory retirement age. Opponents contend the next governor, who takes office on Jan. 8, has that right.

Meanwhile, former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, the Republican nominee for governor, told the Florida Chamber of Commerce this week that he intends to appoint the new justices.

“It’s important that we have a governor who understands that we have to appoint solid constitutionalists to our state courts, including our state Supreme Court,” he told the chamber members, who were meeting in Orlando.

“The next governor probably, and I know there’s a little bit of controversy about when these appointments happen, but I’m presuming that I get elected governor and get sworn in, that I will have three appointments to the state Supreme Court,” DeSantis said.

It’s not the first time DeSantis has asserted his right to make the court appointments. It became an issue in his final debate with Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

“They’re not your appointments. They’re Gov. Scott’s appointments,” Putnam told him, saying DeSantis was aligning himself with groups like the League of Women Voters of Florida, who is challenging Scott on the court appointments.

For his part, Scott, who expects to get a list of potential court appointees by Nov. 8, has said he will work on the appointments with the winner of the Nov. 6 election.

Reaching an accommodation with DeSantis, who shares a similar conservative philosophy with Scott, seems possible. But if Democrat Andrew Gillum prevails, Floridians can expect the appointment controversy to intensify.

WHO’S GOT THE POWER

Scott’s lawyers on Wednesday argued the governor has the authority to appoint the replacements for justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince, who are all leaving the court in early January because they have reached the mandatory retirement age.

The lawsuit, filed by the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause, has asked the Supreme Court to block Scott’s action, through a procedure known as a “writ of quo warranto,” arguing the new governor who takes office on Jan. 8 should have that appointment power.

But in a 33-page res1ponse, Scott’s lawyers said he is following the precedent of beginning the appointment process before the vacancies actually occur, noting numerous justices have been appointed using this procedure in order to avoid prolonged vacancies on the court.

“The petitioners’ interpretation of the applicable constitutional provision is contrary to its plain language, the long-standing historical practice of the judicial nominating commissions for the Supreme Court and district courts of appeal, and the clearly articulated public policy underlying Article V of the Florida Constitution: avoiding extended vacancies in judicial office,” the lawyers wrote.

Earlier this month, Scott directed the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission to begin accepting and reviewing applications for the court appointments. The commission has set an Oct. 8 deadline for the applications, followed by a Nov. 8 deadline — two days after the general election — for submitting names of potential justices to the governor.

Scott, a Republican who is running against incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, said he has the “expectation” that he and the incoming governor could reach an agreement on the appointments.

Underscoring the legal challenge is the fact that the new appointments are likely to reshape the seven-member Supreme Court for years, if not decades. Pariente, Lewis and Quince are part of a liberal bloc, which now holds a slim 4-3 majority, that has thwarted Scott and the Republican-dominated Legislature on numerous occasions since the governor took office in 2011.

SEX AND THE SENATE

In another Florida parallel to the Kavanaugh controversy, where the nominee has been accused of sexually harassing women while in high school or college, a sexual discrimination case involving the Florida Senate advanced this week.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and four high-ranking senators — including President Joe Negron — are among the witnesses being asked to testify in a discrimination case filed by legislative aide Rachel Perrin Rogers, who accuses the Senate of retaliation after she filed a sexual harassment complaint last year against former Sen. Jack Latvala.

Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who held the powerful post of Senate budget chief and was a candidate for governor when Perrin Rogers’ allegations against him first came out, resigned from the Senate shortly before the legislative session began in January. He has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing.

Latvala is among the witnesses Tiffany Cruz, a lawyer who represents Perrin Rogers, is asking to appear at a Jan. 14 federal administrative-court hearing in Tampa, according to court documents first reported Wednesday by Politico Florida.

The list of witnesses gives just a glimpse into the allegations made by Perrin Rogers, who filed the discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in January.

One of the witnesses is Jean Seawright, who was hired by the Senate to conduct an investigation into Perrin Rogers after the aide filed the complaint against Latvala, according to court documents. Senate Special Master Ronald Swanson, who investigated Perrin Rogers’ allegations against Latvala, is also on the witness list.

Negron, a Stuart Republican who is leaving office after the November elections, “has knowledge that complainant suffered retaliation for making a report of sexual harassment,” Cruz wrote in a four-page list of witnesses submitted Tuesday to U.S. Administrative Law Judge Alexander Fernández.

The Senate president denied anyone punished Perrin Rogers, a high-ranking aide who works for Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, after she complained about Latvala.

“The complaint of sexual harassment, in this case, was immediately and fully investigated. At all times the Senate has acted appropriately and there has been no retaliation,” Negron said in a text message Wednesday.

But Cruz told The News Service of Florida on Wednesday that “there has been constant retaliation” against Perrin Rogers since she first complained about Latvala last fall. And the retaliation got worse after Swanson’s report was completed and the Senate aide filed her discrimination complaint, Cruz said.

“Instead, what we’ve seen happen here is the Senate has taken almost no action as the employer to protect Rachel when the retaliation was happening, and then subsequent to the investigation, they’ve actively taken steps to treat her differently as a result of her complaint,” she said.

The investigation into Latvala came amid a national spotlight on revelations of sexual harassment lodged against powerful men in Hollywood, business and politics that led to the demise of entertainment-industry titans such as Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose and Les Moonves.

STORY OF THE WEEK

Gov. Scott reasserted his right to appoint three new justices to the Florida Supreme Court before he leaves office in early January.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“The message that women are receiving, to me, is you become a pariah for saying something about any type of misconduct that’s happening to you by a man, especially by a man of power. If you say something too late, you get attacked for that. If you say something right away, you get attacked for that. So essentially the message is, be silent, or these are the consequences.” — Tiffany Cruz, a lawyer who is representing legislative aide Rachel Perrin Rogers, who is suing the Florida Senate in a discrimination case.

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Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

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