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Unfriended: Former candidate sues over fib to get access to his Facebook posts

A former Democratic candidate for the Florida House is suing a former Chris Latvala campaign staffer, claiming she wrongly accessed his Facebook account to obtain damaging information.

In 2016, David Vogel ran and lost against the Republican Latvala for House District 67, which covers parts of north Pinellas County.

After announcing his campaign, Janice Silva sent Vogel a friend request. Weary of political operatives, Vogel questioned Silva online about the campaign and (according to a screenshot filed with the lawsuit documents in Pinellas County) told Vogel she didn’t know who Latvala was.

But Silva was actually working for Latvala and had previously worked for Latvala’s father, former Sen. Jack Latvala, according to campaign finance documents.

Vogel’s lawsuit alleges her lie also constitutes a third-degree felony for fraud, but he filed civilly for an undisclosed amount of monetary damages. 

Vogel went on to lose the election to Latvala by roughly 59 percent to 41 percent.

The lawsuit also names the Tampa Bay Times, which reported on the Facebook posts. Its reporter, Megan Reeves, is also named as a defendant; the newspaper and its reporter could both be protected under the First Amendment, however. A request for comment is pending.

Florida Politics reported on the posts at the time, but has since removed that report to avoid litigation.

Publisher Peter Schorsch explained that “although we strenuously disagree with Mr. Vogel’s characterization of our reporting — or the reporting of the Tampa Bay Times — I deleted the blog post in question rather than deal with a losing gadfly like him.”

The Times’ reporting included responses from Vogel and Latvala. Vogel lamented the “deceit” used by Latvala’s campaign to obtain the information and told the paper the posts should not have bearing on his campaign because they were made in a private forum.

Latvala told the Times the information-gathering under false pretenses was “campaign 101” and that he had done nothing wrong. Latvala is not named in the lawsuit, but said the lawsuit is “the very definition of frivolous.” 

“If he thinks that Facebook is the reason he lost, I could give him a number of reasons,” Latvala said. “Maybe the constituents were interested in having a representative that cared about all of his district, not just a particular party.”

Latvala said Vogel ran on a liberal platform and was “only looking for liberals to support him.”

“I have always conducted myself in a bipartisan fashion,” he said, adding, “I think he’s just a sore loser.”

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at Janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson, and Kelly Hayes.
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