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Romano: Like him or not, Latvala deserves a fair hearing

By John Romano
State Sen. Jack Latvala. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]

At some point, the truth has to matter, right?

Evidence, due process, all of that?

No matter how you feel about Sen. Jack Latvala personally (and I’ve never been a huge fan) or how you feel about the overzealousness of his defense (which I criticized earlier this week), we all have an obligation to follow the facts and truth of the sexual harassment charges brought against him.

So why are so many people rushing to judgment?

For instance, House Speaker Richard Corcoran was calling for Latvala’s resignation within minutes — quite literally — of anonymous allegations hitting Politico last month.

I’m not arguing whether Latvala is innocent or guilty; that’s a matter for the special master appointed to the case to investigate. I’m arguing that justice works for all of us or it works for none of us.

Now, obviously, it’s more complicated than that.

If the past few months have taught us anything, it is that men in power have routinely bullied, harassed, groped and raped without fear of repercussion for far too long.

So the courageousness of the first few women stepping forward has given us all an opportunity to change the course of America, and that’s not remotely an exaggeration.

Men will either behave, or they will be held accountable.

It really should be that clear.

It really can be that revolutionary.

But we must be careful that our enthusiasm for justice doesn’t inadvertently trample the path to justice. It has been said that a lynch mob is still a lynch mob, even if the accused is guilty.

Unlike some celebrities/politicians who have acknowledged at least a version of the accusations against them, Latvala has vociferously denied any inappropriate physical contact with anyone.

And, thus, he has a right to defend himself.

Now, as I pointed out this week, I think Latvala went too far with his defense. At least publicly. If he didn’t come right out and violate his accuser’s confidentiality, he appears to have done it in spirit. And that may eventually prove to be more problematic than the original allegation.

But the more people talk about this case, the uglier it seems to get. And that’s not fair. It’s not fair to the accuser, the accused, the witnesses or the special master in charge. Most of all, it’s an unsettling precedent for every woman watching from afar and seeing what a mess it’s become.

For that reason, Senate President Joe Negron needs to do two things:

1. He needs to tell his members to keep their opinions to themselves until the investigation is completed, and he should request Corcoran do the same in the House.

2. He needs to expedite this process. The special master’s investigation is supposedly completed, and so there is no reason for this not to be resolved by month’s end.

In the end, this is not about personalities. It’s not about how incidents were handled in Hollywood or Washington, D.C., and it certainly should not be about politics. This is about whether Latvala inappropriately touched the woman who made a formal complaint.

There are some people who are outraged by this story and who see Latvala as the embodiment of the shenanigans, and worse, that women have endured in Tallahassee and elsewhere. Others are chagrined that a career in public service is going up in flames even though they see the evidence pointing to exoneration. The difference, I suppose, is in the ways our own lives have shaped our world views.

And that’s why it’s important to let the process play out the way it’s supposed to. Despite our differences, we all seemingly want the same thing.

And that’s justice.