PALM HARBOR — A former Florida judicial assistant says in a complaint filed Wednesday that she was fired this month for reporting an affair between a Polk County judge and a bailiff and was later sexually harassed by that bailiff.
Alisha Rupp held a news conference in the office of her attorney, who represents another woman who has filed an unrelated case in Polk County, also accusing public servants of sexual harassment.
Rupp said the problems began in September 2012, when she walked in on the two having sex. The male bailiff later sexually harassed her as she was coming out of the bathroom in the courthouse, she said.
Rupp filed wrongful termination complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Florida Commission on Human Relations. She also sent letters to Polk County State Attorney Jerry Hill and state Supreme Court Chief Justice Ricky Polston.
Wednesday night, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said in a news release that the bailiff has been suspended pending the outcome of internal and criminal investigations.
Rupp said she was employed by Judge Beth Harlan in Bartow for 15 years, and that Harlan shared an office suite in the Bartow courthouse with Judge Susan Flood. The county is located between Orlando and Tampa.
In September 2012, Rupp alleged, she accidentally walked in on Judge Flood and bailiff James "Bubba" Maxcy having sex on a table in Flood's office.
According to the letter sent to the state attorney and to the head of the state Supreme Court, Rupp said Flood apologized and urged her not to tell anyone what she saw. Rupp said Flood told her that she would have the county's chief judge fire her if she said anything.
Rupp alleges that this past May, Maxcy made sexually harassing remarks and rubbed his body on hers as she walked out of the bathroom in the judge's chambers.
"I got my handcuffs out, are you ready to see what a real man feels like," Maxcy stated, according to Rupp. She added that Maxcy "forcefully pushed her against the wall" and said he was "tired of looking at" Rupp if he could not have sex with her. She says he said he would speak to the chief judge about having her fired.
According to the complaint, Rupp and her boss, Judge Harlan, asked the chief judge to move offices due to the affair between the other judge and the bailiff. The chief judge refused, said Rupp, who worked for Harlan for 15 years.
"I loved my job and was immensely proud of the work I did," she said.
In July, Polk County chief judge Bruce Smith fired Rupp for falsifying her timesheet. Rupp's attorney, David Linesch, said Rupp never falsified her timesheet and even tried to show Smith evidence that she had worked on the days in question — and that Harlan backed Rupp.
Reached for comment, Smith said he hadn't seen Rupp's allegations and could not comment.
Harlan and Flood did not return calls for comment on Wednesday.
Nick Sudzina, the court administrator, said that Smith fired Rupp on July 8, and that two days later, Rupp first reported allegations of sexual harassment. Smith then appointed another judge to investigate — but Rupp did not show up.
The judge who was asked to investigate the situation wrote in a document that the suite that contained the two judges, two judicial assistants and the two bailiffs had a collegial atmosphere.
"The suite had a practice of celebrating each member's birthday with an in house breakfast or lunch including cake," wrote Judge Jeff McKibben, adding that no one interviewed by him reported seeing Maxcy say or do anything inappropriate.
McKibben closed his investigation and ruled that Rupp's allegations were unfounded.
Linesch said that his client didn't attend the meeting with McKibben because she didn't think she would receive fair treatment.
Linesch also represents Sue Eberle, another Polk County woman who has alleged sexual harassment.
Eberle, who was a crime analyst for the city of Lakeland, has told officials that she had consensual and sometimes coerced sex with officers and a firefighter, and that she once was propositioned by a city worker in Lakeland. State law enforcement officials are investigating a widespread sex scandal involving nearly a dozen police officers because of Eberle's claims, most of which were confirmed by a state attorney's report.
Linesch said Wednesday that both women had different and unrelated cases, but called the climate in Polk County "demoralizing and disheartening."
He said, "For this type of misconduct to happen in judicial chambers is so off the chart."