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Will this Florida agency release records on ousted banking regulator?

Ronald Rubin sued Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis over public records related to his ouster. On Tuesday, attorneys agreed to narrow scope of the records request.
Robert L. Rubin
Robert L. Rubin
Published Jan. 21, 2020|Updated Jan. 21, 2020

TALLAHASSEE — Attorneys for Florida’s former banking regulator on Tuesday reached an agreement with Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis in a long-running feud over public records.

Attorneys for Ronald Rubin, who was fired last year over an allegation of sexual harassment, are narrowing the scope of their request for records about why he was forced out of the job.

Rubin sued Patronis and the Office of Financial Regulation in September, claiming that they were stonewalling him on records requested under the state’s public records law.

Related: Florida banking regulator fired over sexual harassment allegations

By law, agencies are supposed to provide public records in a “reasonable” amount of time. Yet what’s “reasonable” isn’t defined in state law.

On July 30, five days after he was fired by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Cabinet, Rubin asked for all emails, text messages and phone records between Patronis and his top aides, lobbyists and others involved in Rubin’s ouster.

Lawyers for Patronis have argued that the request by Rubin was too broad, and his office has failed to produce any records of consequence in the case.

The records are potentially damning for Patronis, a restaurateur and the state’s first Chief Financial Officer without a background in banking.

Related: 'Pay to play - or else': Florida's banking regulator alleges CFO corruption

Patronis was the main advocate to hire Rubin, a former securities lawyer in Washington. Within months of taking the job, however, Rubin was accused of sexual harassment by a woman working in his office.

Patronis then took the highly unusual — and potentially illegal — step of releasing a redacted version of the woman’s complaint and calling for Rubin’s resignation. An ethics complaint and a criminal investigation were opened into the release because the complaint was marked “confidential” under state law.

Rubin, citing text messages, said Patronis released the complaint to pressure him to resign. He also said the whole thing was exaggerated by Patronis because Rubin wouldn’t hire and fire the people Patronis and Patronis’ chief of staff wanted him to.

The previous head of the Office of Financial Regulation, which oversees banks and payday loan shops, also said Patronis and his staff tried to influence the office for political reasons.

Since then, Patronis has produced few records relating to Rubin’s hiring and the circumstances that led to his firing.

Beginning in May, the Times/Herald has requested documents similar to those requested by Rubin, yet has received nothing from Patronis’ office. The office has also not given the Times/Herald a cost estimate for the records, a typical first step toward producing the records.

Among the records the Times/Herald asked for was a three-ring binder of background materials on Rubin, including the “extensive” background checks Patronis said his office conducted on Rubin.

In August, Patronis’ then-general counsel, Peter Penrod, told the Times/Herald’s attorney in August that the office did not keep a copy of the binder and that the office was working on recreating it. The Times/Herald has still not received a copy of its contents.

The Times/Herald also asked for correspondence between Patronis’ top aides and a lobbyist close to his office, but has received no records.

Instead, in response to records requests about Rubin, Patronis’ office has released roughly 1,700 pages of records, most of which have little or no relevance to Rubin’s hiring and firing. For instance, among those records is a roughly 70-page report produced by the Florida Medical Examiners Commission about drugs identified in dead people in 2017. About half the records are listings of lawyers who have sued insurance companies on issues unrelated to the Office of Financial Regulation.

Exacerbating the unresponsiveness to the Times/Herald public records requests is that Patronis’ office has selectively released records to other outlets that appear favorable to Patronis and damaging to Rubin.

In August, for example, the office released more than 50 pages of redacted records to an online publication, Florida Politics, that included emails from Penrod. The emails claimed that Rubin could be charged with a crime for not turning over his work-issued computer and cellphone.

Some of those emails by Penrod were sent on Aug. 25. It took only until the next day for the records to be redacted and sent to Florida Politics, which wrote about the emails the same day.

In November, Patronis announced Penrod was promoted to his chief of staff.


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