Attorney says Orlando Gudes is waging ‘war with alternative facts’ in sexual harassment case

'Councilman Gudes engaged in conduct so reprehensible that it rose to the level of actionable discrimination under the law.'

The attorney for the woman who accused Tampa City Council member Orlando Gudes of sexual harassment released a statement Monday accusing the Council member of waging “war with alternative facts” in his attempts to defend his actions.

Gudes, who had been the Council’s Chair, stepped down from that role Thursday with barely a month left in his term. He has, however, refused to resign from the Council despite last week’s release of an independent investigation that found 18 out of 19 sexual harassment claims against him by a former legislative aide were credible.

“Under the direction of a Florida Bar Board Certified Attorney and well-respected leaders in the legal community, two major law firms, Trenam and GrayRobinson, examined the testimony of 20 witnesses and reviewed scores of other materials,” attorney Ethan Loeb wrote. “They conclude that Councilman Gudes engaged in conduct so reprehensible that it rose to the level of actionable discrimination under the law.”

Gudes hasn’t spoken much about the incident. He released a statement admitting to some of the accused actions but argued they are not sexual harassment.

The investigation determined his actions rose to the level of sexual harassment based on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s definition. That definition states sexual harassment “does not have to be of a sexual nature … and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.”

“While I disagree with the entirety of the findings in the report regarding my former legislative aide, I do accept responsibility for comments that I made that, while not sexual harassment, were not appropriate for the workplace,” he wrote.

Gudes’ attorney, Ryan Barack, hasn’t said much either. Friday afternoon, Barack released a cryptic email that said:

“We just received additional documents regarding the city’s investigation of Councilman Gudes which cast substantial doubt on the actions of the administration. We are continuing to investigate this matter.”

Barack declined to comment further.

Gudes and Barack have been pushing back on the investigation since its inception, first calling into question the administration’s ability to conduct one.

“Under the Tampa Home Rule Charter and Florida law neither the City Attorney nor the Mayor, nor their designees, has any authority to oversee the conduct of a member of the City Council,” Gudes wrote. “Similarly, they do not have the ability to discipline a member of Council.”

Thomas Gonzalez is the attorney who reviewed the investigation’s findings for the city. He said there is no dispute over the city’s authority to discipline Gudes. Since he is an elected official, only the Governor can. But because his aide was a city employee, the city had a legal obligation to investigate. City policy says any complaint “concerning employee violations will be thoroughly investigated by the Human Resources Department for immediate corrective action as warranted.”

Gudes also attempted to justify his actions by saying he made the mistake of hiring a friend and “failed to recognize the change to the dynamic of the relationship as a result.”

Gudes is accused in one instance of leaning out of his car and sniffing the aide’s crotch, saying, “It smells like you had a man in there today.” Gudes denied making the comment. But in a separate instance, Gudes allegedly told his aide, “I told you before, I was a police officer. I was not trying to smell your twat. I’m not interested in your twat like that. I was making a joke. You are overly sensitive.”

He also remarked to the aide about Mayor Jane Castor, who is a lesbian, and her longtime partner, “I wonder who is going to be eating whose p***y tonight,” when he saw the Mayor in a gown at a fundraiser.

He also once told his aide’s underage daughter she needed to have better posture because she “had really big boobs and if (she) kept standing like that your boobs will be down to here.”

“Councilman Gudes’ contention that it is acceptable to make inappropriate and highly offensive repeated references to anyone — whether friend or colleague — about a child’s body, women in the workplace or people of the LGBT community is, at best, disgusting,” Loeb wrote.

Gudes has also attempted to deny the allegations and any existence of a problem, while also saying he was getting help.

“I have decided to engage the services of an Executive Coach, Gina Cox, Ph.D., at my own expense,” he said in a statement. “It is my hope that through this process I can further develop my own leadership skills and workplace sensitivity so that I can be at my best to better serve my constituents and this city.”

But Loeb said Gudes’ professional history shows this is an ingrained pattern, not an anomalous event. Last week, Florida Politics obtained Gude’s disciplinary record from his 26 years as an officer with the Tampa Police Department. The record outlined a career former TPD Chief Brian Dugan described as an “embarrassment,” saying Gudes had a reputation as a “screw-up.”

A 15-year-old shot his sister with a gun Gudes left unattended in a car. He once was suspended for lying about an arrest and had numerous domestic violence investigations. And as a sitting member of Tampa’s City Council, Gudes, 54, remarked the city was being “jewed” on a contract. He later apologized and said he didn’t understand the comment was offensive.

“This case is about a man plagued with disciplinary problems as a Tampa Police Officer. And not surprisingly, as an elected official, he continues a reckless campaign of victimizing citizens living in this city,” Loeb wrote.

“From his anti-Semitic comments in 2020 to the highly offensive and sexually charged comments about former President (Barack) Obama’s daughters, Councilman Gudes has absolutely no business representing the city of Tampa or its citizens. Yet, despite overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing, rather than step aside, Councilman Gudes has decided to embarrass himself and the city of Tampa by remaining on the City Council.”

Loeb already has victory for one client at the cost of a City Council member’s seat this year.

In October, he filed suit against John Dingfelder on behalf of his client, prominent development consultant Stephen Michelini, over a public records request and accusations Dingfelder conducted city business with personal accounts. Following a months-long, bitter court battle, the case ended with Dingfelder resigning from the Council and writing Michelini an apology letter. He’s also barred from discussing the case with the media.

Gudes has previously spoken against Loeb for what he saw as retaliatory lawsuits.

“It’s kind of disheartening that we continue to — I don’t want to use the word ‘attacked’ — but it seems like if we don’t vote a certain way or we don’t do something with certain people we’re under siege a little bit,” Gudes said in a February City Council meeting. “I think everyone is feeling that on this Council and the public is seeing that.”

Loeb in November requested public records from all sitting council members related to the Dingfelder case. He is also preparing a defamation lawsuit against the owner of a fake Facebook profile he said has slandered Michelini.

Daniel Figueroa IV

Bronx, NY —> St. Pete, Fla. Just your friendly, neighborhood journo junkie with a penchant for motorcycles and Star Wars. Daniel has spent the last decade covering Tampa Bay and Florida for the Ledger of Lakeland, Tampa Bay Times, and WMNF. You can reach Daniel Figueroa IV at [email protected].


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