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Prosecutors won’t charge Florida CFO for releasing confidential complaint

The victim still believes state law was violated by the release of her sexual harassment complaint. Another attorney called the interpretation of the law “ridiculous.”
Jimmy Patronis, the Chief Financial Officer of the state of Florida.
Jimmy Patronis, the Chief Financial Officer of the state of Florida. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published May 28, 2021|Updated May 29, 2021

TALLAHASSEE — Prosecutors in Tallahassee chose not to pursue criminal charges against Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis for releasing in 2019 an employee’s sexual harassment complaint, a possible violation of state law.

In a Friday memo, Leon County State Attorney General Counsel Eddie Evans wrote there was no evidence of criminal intent in Patronis’ decision to disclose the complaint, which triggered a criminal probe and allegations that he was using a sexual harassment complaint as leverage to pressure the state’s then-banking regulator, Ronald Rubin, to resign.

It was the second time in as many years that Patronis, who is elected, released employees’ sexual harassment cases without the victims’ knowledge while he pressured Florida’s banking regulators to resign. Rubin’s predecessor said the first disclosure seemed political and led to him stepping down in 2018.

But Evans wrote that because Patronis consulted with his general counsel before releasing the 2019 complaint against Rubin, it was evidence that he acted “in good faith.” And, Evans wrote, the victim did not object to not pursuing charges.

“Such actions indicate the release of the documents was made in a good faith attempt to comply with the sometimes nuanced public records laws of Florida and not with a criminal intent to violate the public records laws,” Evans wrote.

The decision was called a “ridiculous” interpretation of state statutes, a criminal defense lawyer told the Times/Herald. The victim’s attorney, Tiffany Cruz, said she still felt like Patronis’ office broke the law.

“We still believe it was a violation of the statute,” Cruz said.

A spokesperson for Patronis said in a statement, “The memo speaks for itself.”

Patronis faced a first-degree misdemeanor charge, punishable by a year in jail and up to a $1,000 fine, for releasing the employee’s complaint in 2019. Florida law says employee complaints are “confidential and exempt” until they’ve been investigated.

That same warning was atop the woman’s complaint form that Patronis sent to reporters in 2019. The complaint was filed just hours earlier by a woman working for Rubin, who was then leading Florida’s Office of Financial Regulation. The woman alleged inappropriate behavior by Rubin that caused her to hide from him.

Rubin was later fired by Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida’s Cabinet, which includes Patronis. Rubin sued Patronis, alleging that the chief financial officer was pressuring him to hire friends and political allies. Evans on Friday also dismissed any criminal wrongdoing against Patronis in that case.

After Patronis released the woman’s harassment complaint, Cruz wrote to Attorney General Ashley Moody requesting that her office investigate.

“My client made her written complaint with every expectation that the complaint would be made confidential,” Cruz wrote to Moody.

The allegations against Patronis, one of the top four elected officials in the state, have been referred to several agencies for investigation.

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Moody, who sits on Florida’s Cabinet with Patronis, referred the case to the Office of Financial Regulation’s inspector general, who then referred it to state police. Then state police, in a highly unusual decision, said it had a “potential conflict” investigating Patronis because Patronis is on the three-person Cabinet, which along with DeSantis appoints the head of the state police.

The state police then referred it to Leon County State Attorney Jack Campbell, who said he’d never heard of state police referring a case to his office because of a conflict of interests.

Evans wrote Friday that Cruz and the victim had “no objection” to not pursuing criminal charges, which she confirmed.

“My client was ready to move forward with her life,” Cruz said.

But a Miami attorney objected to prosecutors’ interpretation of the law.

“If there’s not a criminal case here, then there’s no criminal case anywhere,” said attorney Nathan Clark. “It’s clearly a violation of law.”

Clark represented one of the only people known to be charged with a crime for illegally releasing an employee complaint. Okaloosa County School District spokesman Henry Kelley was charged in 2018 after releasing a complaint against a school employee to a television reporter.

What Kelley did was an accident, Clark said. Kelley was fulfilling a request for public records from a reporter, and if he’d waited a few more days, he would have been allowed to release the record without penalty.

That’s different than what Patronis did, Clark said. Patronis first got an opinion from his general counsel saying the release was legal, indicating that there was obviously some concern about violating the law, Clark said.

“If he vetted it beforehand, then he knew what he was doing was wrong,” Clark said. “To give that kind of advice based on the statute is absurd, in my opinion.”

When asked about the discrepancy between the Okaloosa case and the Patronis case, Evans declined to comment.

“I’ll let the memo speak for itself,” Evans said.


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