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Senate hires special master as second investigation into Latvala harassment claims gets underway

Judge Ronald SwansonThe Senate's decision to outsource its investigation of sexual harassment claims against Sen. Jack Latvala got moving on the second track on Friday as the Senate's hired special master started interviewing witnesses.

The special master, retired First District Court of Appeal Judge Ronald V. Swanson, will conduct an investigation in response to a formal complaint filed by an unnamed Senate staff member.

A separate employment investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Latvala as published Politico is underway. That investigation is being led by Gail Golman Holtzman of the Tampa-based Jackson Lewis law firm.

Swanson, 69, was appointed to First DCA by Gov. Rick Scott in June 2011 and retired April 30, 2016. He now teaches at Flagler College and lives in Jacksonville Beach. 

Swanson, a Republican, was appointed Circuit Court Judge of the First Judicial Circuit and to the Santa Rosa County court bench by former Gov. Jeb Bush. He previously served as a military judge in the Navy and the Marine Corps. In his merit retention election for the DCA in 2012, he received 65 percent approval. He's a former prosecutor, who sent people the death row, a former teacher at the Florida School for the Blind, and went to high school in Tampa. 

Senate spokesperson Katie Betta refused to answer procedural questions related to the investigation and to make publicly available the contract with the special master, saying that would be a violation of the Senate Rules.

"I cannot confirm any details regarding the complaint," she said. 

Latvala attorney Steven R. Andrews would not identify Swanson but when asked whether he approved of his selection as special master said he was pleased. "We're happy the president accepted our recommendation to hire a retired judge and we believe him to be an excellent jurist,'' Andrews said. 

Andrews said that unlike the Holtzman case, the interviews in Swanson's case will be done under oath and transcribed. Holtzman's interviews, he said, will not be transcribed. 

The Senate has also hired the Tallahassee law firm of GrayRobinson to provide “legal and consulting services to the Senate as determined by the Senate President or his designee” for an undetermined period of time until Senate President Joe Negron or his designee “decide that the services are no longer needed,” according to the contract signed Nov. 9.

According to the contract signed Nov. 13 by the Office of Legislative Services and Holtzman's law firm, Latvala will be the only senator to be investigated for allegations of sexual harassment claims. The limited scope of the investigation is laid out in a letter attached to the contract from Holtzman. 

"We will represent OLS with its investigation of sexual harassment claims by six unnamed individuals who have alleged claims in media reports against Senator Latvala,'' Holtzman wrote. More on that here. 

 Tampa Bay Times reporter Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.