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Jack Latvala sexual harassment probe could lead to criminal charges

UPDATE – JACK LATVLA HAS RESIGNED. That story is here.

Updates before the resignation:

— A second investigation into sexual harassment claims against Jack Latvala, prompted by a POLITICO Florida story, has turned up a witness who bolsters an allegation that the senator would offer to trade sex for favorable votes on legislation. That story is developing.

— Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday morning called on Latvala to resign from the Florida Senate. That story is here.

— Latvala’s attorney, Steve Andrews, said his client didn’t know about a quid pro quo allegation that the senator offered his favorable vote for legislation in return for sexual favors. That story is here.

— The Senate has turned evidence against Latvala over to law enforcement, a move recommended as part of an independent investigation into sexual harassment allegations against the veteran lawmaker. That story from POLITICO is here.

— The senator posted on Facebook that he’s not going to let politics spoil his family’s Christmas. That story is here.


Sen. Jack Latvala “on multiple occasions” offered to trade his vote for sex with a female lobbyist, according to a report released Tuesday by the Senate, which recommends the sexual harassment allegations against the veteran lawmaker be investigated by criminal prosecutors.

The bombshell finding came toward the end of Special Master Ronald V. Swanson‘s report into a complaint filed by Rachel Perrin Rogers, a top legislative aide for future Senate President Sen. Wilton Simpson, in which she accused Latvala of sexually harassing her and assaulting her. (That report is below.)

After interviewing dozens of witnesses for more than a month, Swanson found probable cause that Latvala has “inappropriate physical contact” with Perrin Rogers, pushing forward an investigation that could lead to the powerful senator’s expulsion.

“The evidence demonstrated a progression in conduct, over time, from unwelcome comments and nonverbal behavior to unwelcome touching,” Swanson wrote in the report.

Testimony about the votes-for-sex accusation, however, “raises issues of public corruption and ethics violations not within the scope of this report,” Swanson wrote. The allegation “is supported by explicit text messages.”

Allegations of “quid pro quo conduct (physical contact or sexual intimacy in exchange for support of legislative initiatives) made by a witness other than the complainant …, appear to violate ethics rules, and may violate laws prohibiting public corruption,” he added, recommending “these allegations be immediately referred to law enforcement for further investigation.”

“I just did not foresee this going down this way. None of my legal team foresaw this going down this way. I really thought we were in pretty good shape,” Latvala told the Times/Herald Tuesday night. “I’ve got to figure out how much I’ve got to spend, and how much emotion I want to put in it, since I’m term-limited anyway.

“I can fight this, and we can fight about it all session,” he added. ” … I haven’t even read the whole complaint. I just skimmed through it … I’ve got to see what the next step is.” Latvala has stepped down from his influential perch as Senate Appropriations Committee chairman while the investigation is underway.

Swanson, a retired appellate judge, interviewed an unnamed Senate employee who previously worked as a lobbyist and has known the 66-year-old Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, since 1995. Her name was edited out of the report released to the public.

“For a number of years, (she) had a close personal relationship with Sen. Latvala that was, at times, intimate. (She) testified that when Latvala became engaged to his current wife, she thought the sexual nature of her relationship with (him) would stop. It did not,” the report said.

From 2015 through 2017, Latvala “touched and groped her in an unwelcome manner every time she went to his office, and she believed tolerating such behavior was part of her job as a lobbyist,” according to the report.

“Latvala placed his hands up her dress, touched the outside of her underwear at her vaginal area, her buttocks, and her breasts,” it said.

Latvala also “expressly intimated to her on multiple occasions, that if she engaged in sexual acts or allowed him to touch her body in a sexual manner he would support particular legislative items for which she was lobbying,” Swanson wrote. The woman told him she “felt it was something (Latvala) felt entitled to.”

The most recent text message “purportedly from Latvala concerning possible support for legislation in exchange for a sexual encounter was sent in February of 2016,” the report said. The woman “testified she finally left her work as a lobbyist in large part so she would never have to owe (Latvala) anything.”

The female employee told Swanson she doesn’t Perrin Rogers know well, but her “testimony is corroborative of allegations contained in Ms. Rogers sworn complaint,” according to his report.

The findings detailed in the report will now be reviewed by the Senate Rules Committee on Jan. 11 — two days after Session starts — and they will consider the recommendations made by Swanson. He said a “full range of available sanctions should be considered” against Latvala and also recommended sexual harassment training for Senate members and staff, and a review of the Senate “culture.”

If the committee, chaired by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, recommends a punishment, which could range from a reprimand to expulsion, it would have to be imposed by a two-thirds vote of the full Senate.

If he is expelled, the Republican gubernatorial candidate will “most likely” take the case to court, said one of his attorneys, Steve Andrews, citing concerns over “procedural due process” during the Senate investigation.

Perrin Rogers, 35, filed a formal complaint Nov. 5 with the Senate Rules Committee alleging Latvala assaulted her, touched her inappropriately at a bar, and subjected her to verbal sexual harassment for four years.

Throughout the investigation, Latvala vehemently denied the allegations and in an attempt to defend himself, his legal team released sworn statements from witnesses that took aim at Perrin Rogers’ credibility.

That included an affidavit from Lillian Tysinger, a former Senate Majority Office colleague of Perrin Rogers who claimed she boasted about sabotaging people’s careers.

Latvala received backlash for his handling of the investigation, and Sen. Lauren Book, a Democrat and close ally of his, filed a formal complaint and accused him of interfering with the investigation.

She denounced his defense tactics as a public attack on Perrin Rogers, which could deter other sexual harassment victims from coming forward. She did not call on him to resign.

Book was not the only one. The 39-member Senate was mostly mum during the investigation. Just two of the 15 Senate Democrats called for Latvala to resign, even when the Florida Democratic Party called on him to do so.

But as Latvala fought career-threatening allegations, those claims inspired Attorney General Pam Bondi to call for legislation that aims to protect sexual harassment victims, and Gov. Rick Scott — who called Latvala a “distraction” — to issue an executive order to strengthen sexual harassment policies in state agencies in the executive branch.

The Senate has yet to conclude a different investigation stemming from sexual harassment allegations detailed by five other unnamed women in a POLITICO Florida report. Leading the investigation is Tampa-based attorney Gail Holtzman.

Her findings will go to the Office of Legislative Services.

Here is the report:

Rick Scott on Jack Latvala: It’s ‘time to resign’

Update:

Jack Latvala resigned from the Senate Wednesday afternoon. In a resignation letter to Senate President Joe Negron, Latvala wrote: “I have never intentionally dishonored my family, my constituents or the Florida Senate.

“My political adversaries have latched onto this effort to rid our country of sexual harassment to try to rid the Florida Senate of me.”

___

Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday called for Sen. Jack Latvala to resign.

A brief statement from his office came the morning after an investigative report released Tuesday said Latvala, a 66-year-old Clearwater Republican, likely had committed sexual harassment and offered to trade his favorable vote for legislation in return for sex with a female lobbyist.

“Now that the report is complete and probable cause has been found, it is time for Sen. Latvala to resign,” Scott said. “Resigning is the best thing he can do now for his constituents, colleagues and the state.”

Scott’s turn against his former ally was expected, given the shocking nature of the allegations in the report, investigated by a retired appellate judge.

Latvala had stood with Scott, a Naples Republican, during the last Session as the Republican-controlled House, under Speaker Richard Corcoran, tried to kill VISIT FLORIDA and Enterprise Florida, two of Scott’s most favored agencies.

“He’s going to stand with us all the way through, and he’s going to take a lot of arrows for doing it,” Scott said in March. “I can tell you he’s got broad shoulders and can do it.”

(Hat tip to Associated Press reporter Gary Fineout.)

Attorney: Jack Latvala was blindsided by bribery allegation

Update:

Jack Latvala resigned from the Senate Wednesday afternoon. In a resignation letter to Senate President Joe Negron, Latvala wrote: “I have never intentionally dishonored my family, my constituents or the Florida Senate.

“My political adversaries have latched onto this effort to rid our country of sexual harassment to try to rid the Florida Senate of me.”

__

The Tallahassee attorney for embattled state Sen. Jack Latvala said his client didn’t know about a quid pro quo allegation that the senator offered his favorable vote for legislation in return for sexual favors.

Latvala had “on multiple occasions” offered to vote for bills a certain female lobbyist was trying to get passed if she would have sex with him, according to an investigative report released Tuesday. The allegation “is supported by explicit text messages.”

The new charge, part of a probe into sexual harassment claims against the 66-year-old Clearwater Republican, caught many in The Process off guard — including most of Latvala’s most fervent supporters.

After interviewing dozens of witnesses for more than a month, retired appellate Judge Ronald V. Swanson found it likely that Latvala had “inappropriate physical contact” with top Senate staffer Rachel Perrin Rogers, pushing forward an investigation that could lead to the powerful senator’s expulsion.

Allegations of “quid pro quo conduct (physical contact or sexual intimacy in exchange for support of legislative initiatives) made by a witness other than the complainant (referring to Perrin Rogers) …, appear to violate ethics rules, and may violate laws prohibiting public corruption,” he added.

Swanson recommended: “These allegations be immediately referred to law enforcement for further investigation.”

Latvala’s lawyer, Steve Andrews, told the News Service of Florida’s Dara Kam that Latvala was never given an opportunity to respond to what amounted to a bribery allegation. It wasn’t included in the original complaint the special master looked into, he said.

“Sen. Latvala never had notice of the allegations outside the complaint, and if we had, we could have rebutted them and provided context to the allegations referenced in Judge Swanson’s report. That’s a gross violation of due process and fundamental fairness,” Andrews told Kam.

When contacted by Florida Politics, Andrews referred back to the NSF interview.

Gretl Plessinger, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said that as of Wednesday morning the agency had “not received a referral from the Senate. It could come to us but not necessarily.”

A request for comment also is pending with Tallahassee State Attorney Jack Campbell.

His predecessor, Willie Meggs, once investigated the practice of lawmakers taking trips with and gifts from lobbyists, which resulted in the Legislature enacting what’s now known as the “gift ban.”

Meggs, who retired earlier this year, also prosecuted former House Speaker Ray Sansom on charges he schemed to get a $6 million appropriation into the 2007 state budget to build an airplane hangar for a major Republican donor. Meggs dropped the case mid-trial in 2011 when the judge rejected a key prosecution witness.

Capital correspondent Ana Ceballos contributed to this post from Miami. 

Despite damning charges, state police union backed Jack Latvala to the end

Update:

Jack Latvala resigned from the Senate Wednesday afternoon. In a resignation letter to Senate President Joe Negron, Latvala wrote: “I have never intentionally dishonored my family, my constituents or the Florida Senate.

“My political adversaries have latched onto this effort to rid our country of sexual harassment to try to rid the Florida Senate of me.”

__

Florida’s Fraternal Order of Police is the highest profile organization to endorse embattled state Sen. Jack Latvala in his gubernatorial bid.

Conferred in October after the State Lodge Board meeting in Jacksonville, the FOP endorsement wasn’t necessarily surprising; back in August, when Latvala announced his candidacy in Hialeah, Florida FOP President Robert Jenkins was in attendance.

Latvala, a supporter of defined-benefit pensions for law enforcement, often has aligned with FOP priorities throughout his career.

However, in light of the revelations from the blistering special master’s report on Latvala, one that lays out multiple allegations of sexual harassment of women in the workplace, including an accusation of attempting to exchange legislative support for sexual favors that could merit law enforcement investigation, the FOP is at a crossroads.

Can the police union credibly support a candidate who very likely could be expelled from the Senate, and investigated by law enforcement for his actions?

While that question may be resolved as soon as today, it hasn’t yet been settled, per State FOP Legislative Director Lisa Henning.

A conference call with FOP leadership is pending. As FOP is a membership-driven organization, Henning couldn’t make a statement Wednesday morning.

Even as Latvala resigned from the Senate, the FOP was still silent.

Adam Putnam says ‘it is time’ for Jack Latvala to resign

Update:

Jack Latvala resigned from the Senate Wednesday afternoon. In a resignation letter to Senate President Joe Negron, Latvala wrote: “I have never intentionally dishonored my family, my constituents or the Florida Senate.

“My political adversaries have latched onto this effort to rid our country of sexual harassment to try to rid the Florida Senate of me.”

__

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam called on Sen. Jack Latvala to resign for the first time following a damning report by an independent Senate investigator that could lead to criminal charges.

“No person, in any setting — and certainly not in the state Capitol — should be subjected to this behavior,” Putnam said in a statement.

Putnam is the front-runner in the governor’s race and is facing Latvala for the 2018 GOP nomination.

While they are political opponents, Putnam shied away from calling on him to resign when the sexual harassment allegations first came to light early in November. Instead, he said the Legislature should investigate and “ensure victims may be heard without fear or reprisal.”

After special master Ronald Swanson released the report on Tuesday, Putnam quickly changed his tone. After interviewing dozens of witnesses, Swanson found probable cause that the powerful Clearwater senator inappropriately touched Rachel Perrin Rogers, a top Senate aide, for several years. He also found probable cause that the powerful senator engaged in other sexual misconduct with female lobbyists, including offering to trade his vote for sex.

The sexual “quid quo pro” finding, Swanson wrote, was confirmed in text messages and may violate public corruption laws. He recommended the matter be “immediately” referred to law enforcement.

“Now that the investigation is complete and its findings of probable cause and the referral of the most serious allegations to law enforcement, it is time for Senator Latvala to resign,” Putnam said.

Jack Latvala won’t allow sexual harassment report ruin holidays

Update:

Jack Latvala resigned from the Senate Wednesday afternoon. In a resignation letter to Senate President Joe Negron, Latvala wrote: “I have never intentionally dishonored my family, my constituents or the Florida Senate.

“My political adversaries have latched onto this effort to rid our country of sexual harassment to try to rid the Florida Senate of me.”

__

Sen. Jack Latvala posted on Facebook Tuesday night that he’s not going to let politics spoil Christmas.

Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, posted on his Facebook page a few hours after the release of findings from a outside investigation saying he likely had committed sexual harassment against a Senate staffer.

The report also recommended an allegation that Latvala had offered a quid pro quo of sex-for-votes to a female lobbyist “be immediately referred to law enforcement for further investigation.” He did not address any of the details in the report.

“The timing of the special master’s report tonight has created some special problems for me,” the 66-year-old senator wrote.

“I have a medical procedure scheduled for tomorrow/Thursday after which I have committed to go to Mississippi to see my stepdad and brother for the first time since my mother died this summer, then (I) will go be with my family for Christmas.

“If there is one thing that I have learned the last couple months, it’s the value of my family, so I am not going to let their holiday be consumed by politics,” he added.

“I will be back in Tallahassee on Dec. 26 and will meet with my legal and political team then to consider the future. I will not have any further comment until at least then.

“I appreciate the many gestures of support tonight more than you will ever know. Thank you for your friendship.”

The post generated almost 50 comments by 9 p.m.

For instance, Jason Steele, director of government affairs at Smith & Associates, commented, “My thoughts and prayers have been with you from the very beginning of this mess. I believe in you, and ultimately this will all work out for the best.”

And Betsy Sullivan Collins, a former Senate employee, wrote, “Jack, we have been friends for over 25 years. You have always been above reproach. Merry Christmas to you and your family. Thank you for all the good work you have done for the State of Florida.”

Bombshell charges abound in Jack Latvala report

Update:

Jack Latvala resigned from the Senate Wednesday afternoon. In a resignation letter to Senate President Joe Negron, Latvala wrote: “I have never intentionally dishonored my family, my constituents or the Florida Senate.

“My political adversaries have latched onto this effort to rid our country of sexual harassment to try to rid the Florida Senate of me.”

__

The special master’s report on Sen. Jack Latvala dropped Tuesday afternoon — and it was more scandalous and horrifying than most would have imagined.

The report documents testimony from a former lobbyist that Latvala offered to trade legislative actions for sex. The report also includes graphic testimony from the Clearwater Republican’s primary accuser, Rachel Perrin Rogers, and others.

Some names were redacted from the report before it was turned over to the public.

Latvala denied the events as described. But it will ultimately be up to the Senate to decide his fate in the chamber because the report found probable cause Latvala engaged in the accused behavior. The report also recommends the alleged votes-for-sex propositions be turned over to criminal law enforcement for further investigation.

Here are the most relevant details of the report:

____

From leering to groping: Perrin Rogers describes what happened when she confronted Latvala about his behavior.

Things just got worse, per her account:

“Senator Latvala made unwelcome and unwanted comments about my clothing, my breasts, and my legs. If I had to approach him about a bill or an issue on behalf of my boss, he would stare at my chest and look me up and down without giving any indication if he was listening to the public policy issue I was there to discuss.

“On one occasion, I responded to his comments about my body and told him if he continued to comment on my physical appearance, I would respond by calling him what he is: an obese, disgusting and dirty old man. My reply, intended to discourage him, instead had the opposite effect. He stopped making verbal comments and on at least six occasions since that time, subjected me to unwanted physical touching/grabbing/groping.”

Perrin Rogers also noted, “If I had to talk with him 100 times those two years, probably at least 30 of those times he made me feel uncomfortable with either the way he was looking at me or he made comments about my appearance, what I was wearing, that I was attractive.”

Those comments, often, weren’t even English.

When Perrin Rogers went to talk to Latvala about a legislative issue, he growled at her. Another encounter involved an “MMMM.” And a third involved the senator — one of the most powerful men in the state — saying she looked “hot,” asking if she’d “lost weight.”

Latvala addressed such comments, claiming to have discretion on who would be “offended” and who would “appreciate” them.

____

The Cesspool: In February 2015, Perrin Rogers asserted that she ran into Latvala at the Governor’s Club, a prominent, members-only social club in Tallahassee. 

She said Latvala sat down next to her at the bar, draped an arm across the back of her chair, and then he put his hand down and just started rubbing the top of the thigh area of her left leg. He was rubbing his hand ‘back and forth’.”

Perrin Rogers confided in Caitlin Murray.

She was “ready to leave her job because she was so upset,” Murray reported.

Per Murray, Perrin Rogers told her, “I swear to God, he uses his body to block people and to block what he is doing with his hands.”

Rogers wrote her boss, Sen. Wilton Simpson, to resign in 2015.

She told Simpson the Senate was “a cesspool. I was trying to clear my head last night in GC (Governors Club) and I couldn’t even do that because of Jack Latvala. I left there very upset.”

Perrin Rogers resigned, then returned to employment with Simpson by the end of 2015.

Before coming back, she attempted to change to make herself less of a target.

“From what I know about the years that I have spent around Senator Latvala, he views women in a few different ways. There are women who he helps and respects, but doesn’t bother doesn’t bother in the way that he’s bothered other women, in the way that he’s touched or said things. I thought that if I sent this [a text message referencing a big hug], I thought I could appeal to him emotionally, and then I would be safer when I came back.

“I thought that I could and in an effort to do that, I also know that most of the time all of the times that I have had problems with him, my hair has been blonde, or lighter, and so at this time, I dyed my hair dark before I went back to the Senate.”

That strategy didn’t work, according to her account.

___

Blocking: “He leaned in and sort of blocked my path and stopped me…. And he reached around and squeezed….his hugs were never, like, a, you know, front frontal arms around your back. He would put one around and squeeze on the midsection and just very tight and [with] his hand.”

____

It kept happening: “Ms. Rogers testified as she sat alone at the bar, Senator Latvala approached her, talked with her briefly, and then reached around and did the side grab. She testified Senator Latvala touched her abdomen and midsection; he was squeezing and he moved his hand to the underside of her breast.”

____

Donuts: On one occasion, Perrin Rogers testified that before Latvala had left a room, she was touched inappropriately.

“It was less of a grab than the previous times. But he just briefly squeezed on my love handle section,” Rogers said.

This happened after, of all things, Latvala allegedly throwing a fit about donuts not being available.

Latvala denied her account: “I find that just impossible to believe that happened. I mean, I would remember if I would have done it. I wouldn’t have hugged her at the end of a conversation. I wouldn’t have hugged her period. I mean, I just, I don’t hug Rachel. I haven’t ever hugged Rachel.”

____

Elevator 13: The worst incident Rogers described, arguably, was one in an employees-only elevator in a parking garage at the Capitol.

“Ms. Rogers testified that after she gained access to Elevator 13, Senator Latvala ‘reached around and, I mean, really just lower than he had ever reached before towards I mean, I don’t know how else to say that, like, my vagina, my midsection, my breast – and grabbed … This time it was further in front and I know because it was different from the other times because it was so painful.'”

Rogers claimed to have physical pain for months after that.

“He squeezed and I yelled… He laughed. He chuckled. I went ‘Whoa’ like that. And he chuckled, and the elevator ride was over, and I got off.”

Sen. Simpson corroborated.

“Senator Simpson testified he recalled that Ms. Rogers reported to him that Senator Latvala had groped her or touched her on an elevator during the first committee week in October.”

____

Grey Goose and groping: Ms. Rogers testified Senator Latvala was sitting on the far end of the couch in Senator Simpson s personal office and Ms. (redacted) was sitting in the middle of the couch. Ms. Rogers testified she saw Senator Latvala rubbing the side of Ms. (redacted) breast with his hand, and at one point, put his hand inside her clothing. Observing this made her feel upset and angry. Ms. Rogers testified Ms. (redacted) looked distressed by Senator Latvala’s conduct and pushed his hand away several times.”

____

A second account: “Ms. (redacted) testified that between 2015 and 2017, Senator Latvala touched and groped her in an unwelcome manner every time she went to his office, and that she believed tolerating such behavior was part of her job as a lobbyist. If she went to his office in the Capitol and the door closed, she pretty much [was] always touched. Ms. (redacted) stated that Senator Latvala placed his hands up her dress, touched the outside of her underwear at her vaginal area, her buttocks, and her breast.”

The second account, thus far anonymous, “confirmed that Senator Latvala would place his hands on a woman’s waist and move his hand up and down the side of her body. This testimony corroborates Ms. Rogers account of the Elevator 13 incident as well as her description of Senator Latvala touching her midsection on four occasions during the 2016-2017 Legislative Sessions.”

She further testified that “Latvala expressly intimated to her on multiple occasions, that if she engaged in sexual acts or allowed him to touch her body in a sexual manner he would support particular legislative items for which she was lobbying.”

The report also said the accuser left the business. She didn’t want to feel like she owed Latvala anything.

Adam Putnam, Richard Corcoran pulling in committee cash in December

It’s only been a few days since November campaign finance reports were filed, but gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam and his likely Republican Primary rival House Speaker Richard Corcoran have kept the money rolling in to their political committees.

Putnam’s committee, Florida Grown, has brought in another $135,000 since the start of December according to the committee’s website.

The biggest donor so far is Coral Gables investment banker Bruce Berkowitz, who chipped in $50,000 on Dec. 6. Florida Crystals and real estate developer Wayne Rosen, also of Coral Gables, each chipped in $25,000, while the committee received $10,000 a piece from SWBG Operations Group, G-T Consulting Service Inc. and Committee of Florida Agents. Peter V. Cowie of Palm Beach Gardens chipped in the other $5,000.

Putnam finished November with more than $15 million on hand between his committee and campaign accounts, with $12.83 million of his cash on hand in Florida Grown.

Corcoran hasn’t yet declared as a gubernatorial candidate, though in December he has added another $113,000 to his committee, Watchdog PAC, after bringing in more than $750,000 last month, and starting December with about $4.7 million on hand.

His top donor in the early days of December was MHM Services, which chipped in $40,000, followed by Florida Prosperity Fund at $20,000 and Anheuser-Busch at $15,000.

Currently the only other major Republican running for governor is Clearwater Republican Sen. Jack Latvala, who has been fighting back against sexual harassment allegations for more than a month.

His contributions slowed to a crawl last month and his PAC, Florida Leadership Committee, hasn’t reported any new December contributions since last updating its totals on Dec. 6.

The committee had just shy of $4 million on hand Nov. 30, and Latvala had another $808,062 in the bank for his campaign account.

Gus Bilirakis backs Ed Hooper for Florida Senate

Clearwater Republican Ed Hooper announced Thursday that U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis is backing his campaign for the Florida Senate seat currently held by Jack Latvala, who faces term limits in 2018.

“I am excited to have a partner to work with in Ed Hooper. I know of few better prepared to work on the issues important to Tampa Bay area citizens. Ed has dedicated his career to public service, especially helping our first responders and heroic military servicemen and women,” Bilirakis said.

“I look forward to working with Ed to ensure that our communities are the best places to work, live, and play. I am proud to support him as the next Senator for Florida District 16.”

Hooper touted the endorsement from Bilirakis as well as his fundraising numbers for November, which showed him with $60,000 in new money between his campaign and committee accounts.

“I made a push this past month. I am extremely pleased with the response received,” Hooper said. “I want December to be a quiet month so everyone can enjoy time with family, friends, and in the spirit of the season.”

Hooper has called the Clearwater area home for 45 years, including 24 years working for the city’s fire department. He served in the House from 2006 through 2014, when term limits forced him to retire and spent his three years out of the Legislature working as a consultant.

Currently, he is the only Republican candidate in the race, though he faces a challenger in Democrat Bernie Fensterwald, who had about $4,200 in his campaign account at the end of November.

By the same date, Hooper had $235,335 in his campaign account with another $93,098 on hand in his political committee, Friends of Ed Hooper.

Senate spends $25K on outside attorneys for Jack Latvala probe

The Senate has spent nearly $25,000 in taxpayer money on outside attorneys in connection to the sexual harassment allegations against Sen. Jack Latvala, according to Senate records.

In mid-November, Senate President Joe Negron hired a trio of attorneys from the GrayRobinson law firm to help him navigate the investigation into sexual harassment and groping allegations against Latvala, one of the chamber’s most powerful senators.

Negron sought the help from the Orlando-based firm after the Senate general counsel, Dawn Roberts, recused herself from any involvement in the case, citing a potential conflict of interest because of her close association with Latvala over the years.

Since the contract was signed on Nov. 9, George Meros, who has represented embattled high-profile Republicans in the past, attorney Brian Bieber and attorney Allison Mawhinney have worked a total of 46.8 hours.

The attorneys charge an hourly fee, and according to the contract, their rates are $600 for Bieber, $550 for Meros and $345 for Mawhinney.

The contract with GrayRobinson states the attorneys will provide “legal and consulting services to the Senate” until Negron or his designee decides the services are no longer needed.

In recent weeks, one of the six women who accused Latvala of sexual harassment accused him publicly, intensifying the strategy behind his legal defense, which has led Sen. Lauren Book to file a formal complaint with the Senate Rules Committee, where she accuses him of interfering with the investigation.

Legal battles are also starting to appear even as some senators speculate the Senate investigation may be coming to an end.

Rachel Perrin Rogers, who publicly accused Latvala of sexual assault and harassment, has not ruled out the possibility of suing Latvala, according to her attorney Tiffany Cruz.

Cruz said the lawsuit would not be dependent on whether a special master finds probable cause in the Senate investigation, and the Tallahassee-based attorney may also be eyeing a potential lawsuit against the Senate.

“My client had hoped for a fair and impartial process in the Senate, but due to recent actions, we have serious concerns,” Cruz said.

Last week, Cruz asked the Senate to preserve all records related to the case, including emails, text messages, spreadsheets and documents.

Two days after that request was made, Lily Tysinger, a former Senate Majority Office colleague of Perrin Rogers who has helped Latvala mount his defense with sworn statements that take aim at Perrin Rogers’ credibility, filed a defamation suit against Perrin Rogers.

Cruz said she is “absolutely” filing a counterclaim against Tysinger.

Tysinger’s attorney, Marie Mattox, who has been behind several sexual harassment cases settled with the state, said the case is related to the “unsafe working environment” Rogers created for her at the Senate Majority Office.

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