Friday, November 24, 2017
The Buzz
  • The Buzz
  • From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Jack Latvala claims polygraph test clears him of sexual harassment accusations

RECOMMENDED READING


Facing sexual harassment accusations from six unidentified women, Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater denied alleged incidents described in a news report, signed a sworn affidavit, and passed a lie detector test — which he says is proof he did not harass women in the capital.

"Latvala is being truthful," states the polygraph report, which was administered by his legal team. "He passed his examination and would be classified as non-deceptive."

Fighting accusations that could ruin his career and have nearly doomed his candidacy for governor, Latvala said his attorney, Steve Andrews, hired Timothy Robinson, a Tallahassee polygraph expert and retired chief polygraph examiner for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Under penalty of perjury, Latvala denied under oath that he ever intentionally touched a woman's private areas, rubbed a Senate staffer's leg while she cried, or touched a woman's breasts or buttocks in the rotunda of the Capitol, three of the more serious allegations in a Nov. 3 Politico Florida story quoting unnamed sources.

READ THE POLYGRAPH REPORT HERE

Latvala's polygraph report surfaced a day after the Senate confirmed that a sworn confidential complaint of sexual harassment had been filed with the Senate Rules Committee.

Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta did not identify the target of the complaint, but the panel's chairwoman, Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, told Capitol News Service about the complaint. The news outlet said it was directed at Latvala, who is married.

It's unclear how passing the lie detector test will help Latvala defend himself against the allegations. Polygraph exams are not admissible in state courts. They are allowed in federal cases only if both sides agree.

Charles Rose, a law professor at Stetson University College of Law, said polygraph tests should be conducted in neutral settings.

"I would ignore anything that anyone said about a polygraph unless I was involved in the selection of who was making it and controlling the environment," Rose said. "I would personally look with trepidation on any polygraph conducted at the request of someone who's trying to clear their name."

A person who truly believes that "the facts are a certain way," even if they are wrong, can pass a polygraph test, said Rose.

Latvala said it was the first time he had taken a polygraph test.
Andrews prepared an affidavit and Robinson read three statements during the polygraph interview. With each of the statements, Latvala denied harassment.

Latvala said Andrews also recorded sworn statements on video this week from at least 15 women who are willing to be character witnesses for Latvala, who has been one of the most influential members of the Legislature.

"Have I made mistakes? Am I a little looser than I ought to be with my mouth? Do I tell people they look good? Do I tell people they've lost weight, that's a nice dress? Yes, I'm guilty,'' the Republican senator told the Times/Herald. "But I'm not guilty of touching anybody against their will, and I will go down fighting and swinging as hard as I can to demonstrate that, because this is my name."

Latvala, 66, said three questions in his two-hour polygraph test were framed based on the most "egregious" accusations six women anonymously made against him in Politico.

In the polygraph examination, Latvala answered "true" to the following statements:

• "As described in the Politico Article dated November 3, 2017, at no time did I ever intentionally touch a female's private areas such as her buttocks, lower frontal abdomen, or breasts in a crowded Senate elevator.

• "As described in the Politico Article dated November 3, 2017, at no time did I use my body to block the view of my hands while I rubbed the leg of a female Senate staffer while she cried.

• "As described in the Politico Article dated November 3, 2017, at no time did I intentionally touch the breast of a female or cup a woman's ass in the Capitol Rotunda against their will."

Andrews chose Robinson, the same polygraph examiner who tested an aide to former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll in 2012, in a salacious dispute over allegations of sexual activity in her Capitol office and illegal recording of conversations.

In a pretrial agreement, prosecutors dropped charges against the aide, Carletha Cole, who was represented by Andrews.

Known for a style that's gruff, combative and confrontational, Latvala said Thursday that he has been a mentor to young women in Tallahassee starting their careers as Capitol lobbyists, and has helped them obtain clients.

Bonnie Basham, who has lobbied for 39 years in Tallahassee, said she volunteered to do a video deposition.

"He has never treated me any differently from a male lobbyist. He's a curmudgeon. But he's an equal opportunity curmudgeon," Basham said. "If I didn't value him and believe in him, I would have let it slide."
Basham, 74, a former civics teacher, said: "This is all wrong. You are allowed to face your accuser."

Latvala said the allegations have political overtones. He said that he believes he knows who his accusers are, but he declined to identify them.

Supporters of the unnamed accusers have suggested to Politico that they fear retribution from Latvala, who has more than $4.1 million in his political committee to spend in defending himself.

Andrews, Latvala's lawyer, has requested all testimony be under oath, that a retired judge conduct any hearings and that the case be finished by the time the annual legislative session begins on Jan. 9.

Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, said Senate leaders are working to present a "safe place" for women to come forward with allegations in a way that protects them from retribution.

Latvala said he is concerned that his allies could be subjects of retaliation for coming forward. He declined to release a list of character witnesses at this point.

"People have been threatened,'' he said. "Their cell phones and text messages [could be] subpoenaed and people are going to start doing a number on them."

After the Politico report, Negron choose Senate general counsel Dawn Roberts to conduct highly sensitive probe but she quickly withdrew because she has known Latvala personally and professionally for years.

The Office of Legislative Services on Thursday selected Jackson Lewis, a nationwide employment law firm, to conduct the investigation. Gail Holtzman, a firm partner in Tampa, will serve as lead attorney and primary contact for the investigation..

Negron removed Latvala on Monday as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, the second most powerful position in the Senate, as Latvala requested a temporary leave to contest the allegations, which could overshadow the upcoming annual legislative session that begins on Jan. 9.

Latvala scratched a series of campaign appearances in recent days in Vero Beach, Sarasota and Bradenton and has acknowledged the political damage to his bid for governor, saying "I might not make it to my dream job."

Latvala said neither he nor Andrews could reach the Rules Committee to get more information about the sworn complaint of sexual harassment with the Senate Rules Committee.

Under Senate rules, a sexual harassment complaint can remain secret.

"The Senate has not and will not confirm that the complaint is regarding any specific senator, officer or lobbyist," Senate spokeswoman Betta said.

Tampa Bay Times staff writer Laura Morel contributed to this story.

Comments
Trump visits Coast Guard station in Palm Beach County, praises hurricane response

Trump visits Coast Guard station in Palm Beach County, praises hurricane response

President Donald Trump on Thursday morning visited a Coast Guard station in Palm Beach County and praised the response to hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico."And I would say in particular, Texas has been incredible. You saved 16,000 lives. ...
Published: 11/23/17
Dreamers step up pressure on Rubio, Curbelo

Dreamers step up pressure on Rubio, Curbelo

Advocacy groups are increasing pressure on Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Carlos Curbelo, both Miami Republicans, to support a so-called clean Dream Act.This morning, a variety of groups delivered letters to Rubio's office in Doral to support legislation ...
Published: 11/22/17
Trump visits his West Palm Beach golf club, but first attacks on Twitter

Trump visits his West Palm Beach golf club, but first attacks on Twitter

President Donald Trump settled into Thanksgiving vacation by visiting Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, as he is apt to do when at Mar-a-Lago.But first, Trump went on Twitter and struck at LaVar Ball, the father of a UCLA basketball p...
Published: 11/22/17
Why Democrats feel Miami-Dade is moving their way

Why Democrats feel Miami-Dade is moving their way

MIAMI — Miami-Dade County has long been a crucial region for Democrats' hopes of winning races in Florida. But today, the county's Democratic lean is becoming stronger than ever.Both Al Gore and John Kerry won Miami-Dade by about 40,000 votes. ...
Published: 11/22/17
As Trump stalls traffic on I-95, video shows people twerking to pass time

As Trump stalls traffic on I-95, video shows people twerking to pass time

From our friends at the Miami Herald:As sportswriter and author Jeff Pearlman sat in standstill traffic in Palm Beach County Tuesday evening, he took to Twitter to share an only-in-South-Florida moment.Two people got out of their car and began twerki...
Published: 11/22/17
Heartache rekindled for Miami family of dead soldier

Heartache rekindled for Miami family of dead soldier

WASHINGTON – Amid reports that additional remains of Sgt. La David Johnson were found in Niger, Rep. Frederica Wilson said the government must full account for what happened."It is difficult to find the words to describe how dismaying it was to...
Published: 11/21/17
Bittel won’t resign committeeman post until Dec. 10, after new Democratic chair election

Bittel won’t resign committeeman post until Dec. 10, after new Democratic chair election

Ousted Florida Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Bittel plans to give up his post as Miami-Dade County’s state committeeman -- but not until after his successor atop the state party is elected.Juan Cuba, chairman of the Miami-Dade Democratic Ex...
Published: 11/21/17
Welcome back to Florida, Mr. President

Welcome back to Florida, Mr. President

WASHINGTON – After pardoning a turkey, President Donald Trump this afternoon will get down to his real Thanksgiving tradition: A visit to Mar-a-Lago.At 3:20 p.m., the president and First Lady Melania Trump are scheduled to depart for Palm Beach...
Published: 11/21/17
Bipartisan outrage over Trump administration’s decision on Haitians

Bipartisan outrage over Trump administration’s decision on Haitians

Recriminations continued Tuesday over the Trump administration's plan to send Haitians home in 2019, a decision that brought rare bipartisan objections from Florida lawmakers."These individuals experienced severe loss and suffering as a result of the...
Published: 11/21/17
GOP campaign to sell tax plan includes Florida robo calls

GOP campaign to sell tax plan includes Florida robo calls

WASHINGTON – Constituents of Republican Reps. Brian Mast and Carlos Curbelo will soon get robocalls informing the lawmakers voted for the sweeping tax reform package.Mast and Curbelo both expect tough re-election battles and this is only the la...
Published: 11/21/17