A Democratic activist is asking for an ethics investigation into Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis for releasing a woman’s ethics complaint in a possible violation of state law.
Emma Collum, an attorney and president of Women’s March Florida, filed the complaint with the state Commission on Ethics on Thursday.
In May, Patronis sent to the media a redacted copy of a woman’s sexual harassment complaint against former Office of Financial Regulation Commissioner Ronald Rubin, along with a request for Rubin to resign.
The complaint form was marked “confidential and exempt” under state law, citing a statute that requires employee complaints to remain secret until they’re investigated. Breaking it is a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail.
His action “clearly violated Florida law,” Collum’s complaint states, “and in issuing an official government press release, he has used the property and resources of his office to secure a special privilege, benefit or exemption, for himself.”
Patronis’ spokeswoman, Katie Strickland, said he hadn’t yet seen the complaint. She referred to an opinion from Patronis’ general counsel, which stated that sexual harassment complaints could be released under state law.
“We have followed the law,” Strickland said.
Both Rubin and the woman believe Patronis released the complaint for political reasons, to pressure Rubin to resign and avoid a drawn-out public dispute between two high-level state officials.
And they both asked for investigations into whether Patronis broke state law. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is currently reviewing those complaints.
State ethics law specifically mentions it: “Public officers ... are prohibited from disclosing or using information not available to the public and obtained by reason of their public position, for the personal benefit of themselves or others.”
Rubin was fired by Patronis and the rest of the Cabinet on Thursday, after months of mud-slinging between the two men.
Rubin has said the complaint against him was cooked up for political reasons, claiming that Patronis retaliated against him after he wouldn’t hire the friend of a lobbyist.
Patronis also pushed out Rubin’s predecessor, Drew Breakspear, last year, and sent a different sexual harassment complaint to the press as an excuse for why Breakspear needed to go.
The complaint was not against Breakspear, but Patronis was apparently upset about how Breakspear handled it. However, the issue was months old, it was investigated by Patronis’ office, and Patronis never spoke to Breakspear about it.
Attorney Tiffany Cruz represents both of the women who filed the complaints that Patronis released. She told the Times/Herald last week that neither woman was consulted before their complaints were sent to the press, and they were both harmed by the release.
“She made her complaint and thought it would stay confidential, which it’s supposed to,” Cruz said of the woman in last year’s case. “And it did, until it was politically convenient for a politician to release it.”