Former Florida Judicial Assistant Claims Harassment
PALM HARBOR, Fla. (AP) - A former judicial assistant in a complaint filed Wednesday says she was fired for reporting an affair between a Polk County judge and a bailiff and was later sexually harassed by that bailiff.
Alisha Rupp held a news conference in the office of her attorney who represents another woman who has filed an unrelated case in Polk County, also accusing public servants of sexual harassment.
Rupp said problems started in September of 2012 when she walked in on the two having sex. The male bailiff later sexually harassed her as she was coming out of the bathroom in the courthouse, she said.
Rupp filed wrongful termination complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Florida Commission on Human Relations. She also sent letters to Polk County State Attorney Jerry Hill and state Supreme Court Chief Justice Ricky Polston.
Rupp said she was employed by Judge Beth Harlan in Bartow for 15 years, and that Harlan shared an office suite in the Bartow courthouse with Judge Susan Flood in the county that lies between Orlando and Tampa.
In Sept. 2012, Rupp said, she accidentally walked in on Flood and James "Bubba" Maxcy having sex on a table in Flood's office.
According to the letter sent to the state attorney and the head of the state Supreme Court, Rupp said Flood apologized and urged her not to tell anyone what she saw. Rupp said Flood told her that she would have the county's chief judge fire her if she said anything.
Rupp alleges that in May of this year, Maxcy made sexually harassing remarks and rubbed his body on hers as she walked out of the bathroom in the judge's chambers.
"I got my handcuffs out, are you ready to see what a real man feels like," Rupp said Maxcy stated. She added that Maxcy "forcefully pushed her against the wall" and said he was "tired of looking at" Rupp if he could not have sex with her. She says he said he would speak to the chief judge about having her fired.
According to the complaint, Rupp and her boss, Judge Harlan, asked the chief judge to move offices due to the affair between the other judge and the bailiff. The chief judge refused, said Rupp, who worked for Harlan for 15 years.
"I loved my job and was immensely proud of the work I did," she said.
In July, Polk County chief judge Bruce Smith fired Rupp for falsifying her timesheet. Rupp's attorney, David Linesch, said Rupp never falsified her timesheet and even tried to show Smith evidence that she had worked on the days in question - and that Harlan backed Rupp.
When reached for comment, Smith said he hadn't seen Rupp's allegations and could not comment.
Harlan, Flood and Sheriff Grady Judd, who oversees the bailiffs, did not return calls for comment on Wednesday.
Linesch also represents Sue Eberle, another Polk County woman who has alleged sexual harassment.
Eberle, who was a crime analyst for the city of Lakeland, has told officials that she had consensual and sometimes coerced sex with the officers and a firefighter, and that she once was propositioned by a city worker in Lakeland. State law enforcement are currently investigating a widespread sex scandal involving nearly a dozen police officers because of Eberle's claims, most of which were confirmed by a state attorney's report.
Linesch said Wednesday that both women had different and unrelated cases, but called the climate in Polk County "demoralizing and disheartening."
"For this type of misconduct to happen in judicial chambers is so off the chart," he said.