TALLAHASSEE | As criticism of Frank Artiles continued Thursday, a lawyer for the embattled state senator began an aggressive defense of the legislator who verbally abused a Senate colleague from Jacksonville.
The Miami Republican has apologized for using curse words and other offensive language Monday night when he criticized Senate President Joe Negron’s leadership and berated Sen. Audrey Gibson in the lounge of the private Governor’s Club near the Capitol.
Several lawmakers have condemned Artiles. The legislative black caucus filed a formal complaint on Wednesday and requested that the Senate expel Artiles, who was stripped of his committee chairmanship.
On Thursday, House Speaker Richard Corcoran said the remarks made were “reprehensible.” However, Corcoran, who counts Artiles as a good friend, would not say whether he believes the senator should resign.
Gov. Rick Scott was emphatic. “If I had an employee that said what he said, I’d immediately fire him,” Scott said. The governor said that after hearing what happened, he called Gibson to say that he was sorry she was spoken to in that way.
Meanwhile Thursday, the attorney representing Artiles said colleagues who have criticized his conduct should not be allowed to weigh in on possible sanctions. Attorney Stephen Andrews has requested that Negron, Gibson and several others recuse themselves from a review of the complaints made against Artiles.
“These were statements of prejudgment, creating a conflict for these senators to vote on this matter both in the committee and on the floor of the Senate, should this matter make it to the floor,” Andrews wrote in a Thursday letter to Senate General Counsel Dawn Roberts.
Andrews has also asked Roberts to step down from her role as special master overseeing the investigation, asserting that her duties as the Senate’s lawyer create a conflict of interest.
Negron’s office said he is reviewing the letter but has directed Roberts to continue her inquiry for now.
Senate Rules Chairwoman Lizbeth Benacquisto has asked Roberts to provide a report by Tuesday. Gibson was scheduled for an interview on Thursday. Sen. Perry Thurston, who was also present when Artiles made the comments, has also been asked to sit down with the investigator.
The Rules Committee will decide if any action should be recommended to the full Senate, and final approval on the floor requires a two-thirds vote.
Although Artiles apologized for what he said, he has also defended his comments as a private conversation that has been taken out of context. Andrews indicated that part of Artiles’ defense strategy will include claiming the remarks were protected by the First Amendment and that other senators have made equally as offensive statements without facing disciplinary action.
“Should this matter be sent to the Senate floor, my client intends to put on evidence of other similar speech by other senators, including individuals who are members of the Rules Committee, in determining what the appropriate sanctions should be, if any,” Andrews wrote.
Tia Mitchell, (850) 933-1321