The lawyer for Ronald Rubin, the embattled Commissioner of the state’s Office of Financial Regulation, says his client “should return to service.”
Rubin was suspended after allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate workplace comments, all of which don’t justify his suspension, let alone his firing, said Coconut Grove attorney Michael Tein in a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet.
They’re slated to consider what to do about Rubin’s continued employment with the state at a Thursday morning Cabinet meeting.
“He accepts that, despite the best of intentions, he made some people uncomfortable,” Tein wrote in the letter, sent Tuesday. “And he has sincerely apologized. He has taken supplemental training on management and sexual harassment to ensure this won’t happen again.”
Tein argued in part that OFR Inspector General Bradley Perry‘s “definition of ‘proved’ is far below the standards for civil and criminal liability used every day in Florida’s courts.”
He added: “You can censure him if you wish but, in doing so, you should use the same yardstick to judge misconduct by other Florida officials.”
Rubin 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 and invited her to see his condo. Other unrelated complaints of inappropriate comments followed.
Rubin has said CFO Jimmy Patronis is trying to force him out because he refused to accede to the CFO’s push to hire Kim Grippa, a politically connected lawyer and ex-wife of Tony Grippa, an insurance executive and former Leon County Commissioner.
Since then, the OFR inspector general’s office released findings it says prove that Rubin violated policies against harassment and misconduct, including alleged comments on a sex-watching canine, bowtie-wearers and Rubin’s parents’ fertility.
Tein, however, said Patronis “must recuse himself from voting on this matter in light of his personal stake in the outcome, the pending FDLE investigation against him and his having publicly prejudged the outcome before the investigation was complete.”
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is now looking into whether Patronis broke the law by ordering the May 10 public release of a harassment complaint while the case was still open.
“The CFO will absolutely not recuse himself,” said his spokeswoman, Katie Strickland. “Mr. Rubin’s claims are patently false and outrageous.”
She also referred to state law that requires “the appointment or removal of the OFR Commissioner (by a) majority vote of the Financial Services Commission with both the Governor and the CFO on the prevailing side of the vote.”
(As the Governor and Cabinet, Gov. Ron DeSantis, Patronis, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried also sit as the state’s Financial Services Commission, and collectively they can hire and fire the head of OFR.)
But Tein continued in his letter that “any vote to remove Rubin and appoint an interim is premature under the Weidner Settlement, which requires a “Sunshine-compliant interview … prior to any vote by the Governor and/or Cabinet on an appointment.”
Former Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet settled a lawsuit filed by St. Petersburg attorney Matthew Weidner, news media organizations and others over Scott’s ouster of then-FDLE Commissioner Gerry Bailey in 2014.
Bailey held one of a few state jobs that the Governor and Cabinet must agree to replace. That list includes the head of OFR.
Terms of the agreement include “requiring new Cabinet-level hires to be publicly vetted, requiring that Cabinet staff undergo annual open-records law training and requiring that all Cabinet-aide meetings be broadcast online,” the News Service of Florida has reported.
“The settlement also requires that all communications regarding Cabinet agenda items be conducted in writing or during open meetings.”
Requests for comments have also been sent to the Governor’s Office, as well as Fried’s and Moody’s spokespeople.
Moody “called for the Cabinet to hold an emergency meeting months ago and we look forward to discussing this matter in an open and public setting (Thursday) with the full cabinet,” said her spokeswoman, Lauren Schenone.
The allegation against @OFRCommRubin are deeply troubling. If they are true, the Cabinet should strongly consider his termination. This matter should be addressed at an emergency cabinet meeting, in full compliance with Florida’s Sunshine Laws.
— AG Ashley Moody (@AGAshleyMoody) May 13, 2019