The legal wars in the Senate's sexual harassment saga have moved to circuit court.
Lillian Tysinger, the Senate aide who filed a whistleblower complaint against her former co-worker Rachel Perrin Rogers last week, filed a defamation lawsuit in circuit court on Friday against Perrin Rogers. her attorney, Tiffany Cruz, said Monday "we will absolutely file a counterclaim."
Perrin Rogers has filed a sexual harassment complaint against Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, alleging that the veteran legislator groped her at a Tallahassee bar and in a Capitol elevator and harassed her with inappropriate language for four years.
Latvala has denied the allegations and, as part of his evidence, presented the Senate special master with an affidavit from Tysinger, a 22-year-old aide who worked with Perrin Rogers in the Senate Majority Office, as well as copies of select text messages between them.
Perrin Rogers amended her complaint accusing Latvala of intimidation and retribution, in addition to the harassment, and suggesting that Tysinger falsified the text messages.
In the defamation lawsuit, Tysinger accused Rogers of lying about the text messages and of defaming Tysinger by calling her mentally ill, suggesting she threatened suicide and "engaged in numerous sexual encounters with people she worked with." Tysinger is seeking $15,000 in damages.
Rogers' attorney, Tiffany Cruz, fired back, asking that the Senate provide either a Capitol Police or Florida Department of Law Enforcement officer to be assigned to Perrin Rogers as she enters and exits the building and while she's in her office because she doesn't feel safe.
In a Dec. 6 letter to Senate President Joe Negron, Cruz also asked that he place an "ethical wall" around Negron's chief of staff Cheri Vancura, whom Cruz accused of having a close personal relationship with Tysinger and Latvala and was afraid she would share information with them.
Cruz said that Vancura asked Perrin Rogers to "befriend, mentor and assist Ms. Tysinger throughout the past year." She also said that Vancura has "a close personal relationship with Missy Timmins, Senator Latvala's former aide of many years who continues to be a close confidant of Latvala, and who has made statements with the intent to smear the reputation of any victim who does come forward."
Those letters and the call for security triggered Tysinger's defamation complaint, said Marie Mattox, Tysinger's lawyer.
"The Senate did an investigation involving Latvala. Lily came forward and independently reported the harassment by Rogers,'' she said. "She told them I don't know if the Latvala claims are valid or invalid but here's what happened to me."
The ballooning legal war is not going to be cheap. Mattox, works on a contingency fee basis and told the Herald/Times she has been hired by Tysinger "independent of Latvala. I am not paid by Latvala."
"This is not related to Latvala at all. Regardless of what Perrin Rogers claims are true or not true, she [Tysinger] is a casualty of this process,'' Mattox said.
She added, "I'm hopeful with time this pays."
Cruz has said she is being paid by Perrin Rogers, and her husband, Tallahassee political consultant Brian Hughes.
Cruz called Tysinger's defamation claims "meritless and frivolous" and suggested Mattox did not "investigate the veracity of Miss Tysinger’s claims."
Cruz also hinted Monday that she is setting the groundwork for a lawsuit against the Senate. Last week, she sent a letter to the Senate asking that it preserve all “documents, tangible things, and electronically stored information" relating to the case.
"My client had hoped for a fair and impartial process in the Senate, but due to recent actions, we have serious concerns,'' she wrote.
Tysinger joined the office after working on the political campaigns of Negron, and his wife, Rebecca Negron’s failed campaign for Congress.
On the day after Perrin Rogers made the complaint against Latvala, Negron reassigned Tysinger to the Senate president’s office and gave her an $11,000 salary reduction. Negron’s office gave no specific reason for Tysinger’s reassignment other than to say that the decision to reassign her “was an internal staffing decision unrelated to any allegation of sexual harassment.”