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The same day that CFO Jimmy Patronis‘ top in-house lawyer issued a defense of releasing harassment allegations against suspended financial regulator Ronald Rubin, Rubin himself was sued for violating the state’s public records law.
Kim Grippa filed a complaint in Leon County Circuit Civil court on Wednesday against Rubin “individually,” seeking a court order for the release of records that include text messages and calendars. The complaint does not spell out why Grippa seeks the records.
But Grippa, described as the “politically connected” ex-wife of former Leon County Commissioner and insurance executive Tony Grippa, is at the center of one of several connected narratives involving Rubin, who is on administrative leave.
Rubin, who heads the state’s Office of Financial Regulation (OFR) under Patronis, was suspended after a woman employee complained of sexual harassment, which Rubin has denied. The nub of the complaint had to do with a lunch meeting in which Rubin made offhand sexually related comments.
He in turn says Patronis is trying to force him out of his job because he refused to accede to the CFO’s push to hire Grippa, a lawyer and a senior professor in the School of Business Administration at Daytona State College in Daytona Beach.
Rubin said she wasn’t qualified to work at OFR. Grippa has said she had a bad interview with Rubin and wouldn’t have wanted to work for him anyway.
“She is seeking the truth,” said Tallahassee attorney Ryan Andrews, who represents Kim Grippa, explaining the motivation for the suit. “A lot of untrue things have been said about her in the news and we intend to get to the bottom of it.
“To be clear, however, my client isn’t seeking anything special, just what she or any other citizen of Florida is entitled to — public records.”
A complaint in a lawsuit tells one side of a story. A request for comment has been sent to Rubin’s attorney, Michael Tein of Coconut Grove. An OFR spokeswoman declined comment on the suit because it is against Rubin personally; a spokeswoman for Patronis has not yet responded to a request for comment.
Meantime, Rubin has said the harassment accusations were a pretext to get rid of him. He sued prominent Tallahassee lobbyist Paul Mitchell, a friend of the Grippas, in which Rubin accuses Patronis of running a game of “pay to play — or else” politics. Mitchell, formerly a friend of Rubin, has called the allegations “self-serving” and “largely fictional.”
A lawyer for the woman who filed the harassment complaint piled on, saying Patronis broke state confidentiality law by allowing the release of even a redacted version of her client’s complaint to news media.
The employee’s lawyer, Tiffany Cruz, told the News Service of Florida it was “a knowing and willful violation of Florida Statutes and should be investigated.”
In fact, the Tampa Bay Times reported this week that investigators at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement are now “reviewing whether … Patronis broke state law and released (the) woman’s sexual harassment complaint for political purposes.” A request for comment is still pending with an FDLE spokeswoman.
In response, Peter Penrod — general counsel for Patronis’ Department of Financial Services — on Wednesday released a copy of a legal memo in which he defends the disclosure of what is now three complaints about Rubin’s reportedly inappropriate behavior.
Still another complaint involved a conversation in which Rubin made an “ageist” remark about a group of employees.
Penrod said the records releases both respected public records law and did not violate confidentiality provisions elsewhere in state statutes.
The CFO has asked Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet — Patronis, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried — to fire Rubin at their next scheduled meeting, which is next Thursday.
The action was not discussed, however, at a Wednesday Cabinet aides meeting in the Capitol, and a final agenda for the July 25 meeting had not been released as of Thursday afternoon.
Rubin, who is seeking whistleblower protection under state law, was hired just this February by the state’s Financial Services Commission, which consists of the Governor and Cabinet.
They oversee the OFR, which regulates “banks, credit unions, other financial institutions, finance companies, and the securities industry,” state law says.
Rubin had been an enforcement attorney for the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and worked at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Updated 5 p.m. — Later Wednesday afternoon, Patronis released this statement:
“I have read the final Inspector General report on Ron Rubin. Our general counsel is reviewing this document to determine if it can be released, and I continue to urge that action on his office be taken at the July 25 Cabinet meeting, even while it’s not on the initial agenda. Doing nothing is not an option.
“While I cannot release the details of the report at this time, I can say I believe now more than ever that Mr. Rubin is unfit for office. If Cabinet does not act on July 25, Mr. Rubin will continue to collect a $13,000 a month salary and the complainants who came forward will remain open to the fear that he may someday return to the office.
“My staff has also heard that those connected to Mr. Rubin released the cell phone numbers and social media accounts of complainants. This should be criminal. One can only assume this was done in an effort to harass and intimidate them. It is important to point out that Mr. Rubin’s attorney and his former law partner previously represented Jeffrey Epstein when he was accused of violating young girls and the attorney called them liars in the Palm Beach Post.
“Intimidating victims and those who file sexual harassment complaints at the state level must end immediately. There should be more penalties in our laws to punish those who intimidate complainants for coming forward with their accounts of sexual harassment. Current law does not go far enough.
“I will work aggressively to pursue changes in Florida law that allow sexual harassment complaint filers to get the same protections against retaliation as those who get federal whistleblower status. This won’t be a silver bullet, but my hope is that it will begin an important dialogue about how our state can protect victims while still vigorously pursuing the wrong-doers — especially those who are held to the high standards of holding public office.”