Florida’s top financial and insurance regulator may have landed in the middle of a political mess, but he and other state officials were within their rights in hiring an agency head who was later forced out over allegations of sexual harassment, an appeals court has decided.
“The discretionary decision to appoint or remove (Ronald) Rubin is not subject to judicial review,” the state’s 1st District Court of Appeal wrote last week in a case that is one of a number of legal actions and public allegations that have exposed an ugly side of Florida politics.
With the backing of Florida’s chief financial officer, Jimmy Patronis, Ronald Rubin in 2019 was named head of the Office of Financial Regulation, part of Patronis’ Department of Financial Services, or DFS. The OFR position oversees banks, check-cashing stores and payday loan businesses. Patronis’ office also houses the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation and Division of Workers’ Compensation and handles insurance agent licensing and investigations into agents and public adjusters.
Questions about Rubin’s qualifications and demeanor arose from the start. Florida news outlets reported that Rubin had not held a job for four years prior to his appointment and had been fired from his last job as advisor to a U.S. House committee over allegations of sexual harassment. In Tallahassee, Rubin was reportedly asked to can the OFR’s general counsel and hire Kimberly Grippa, a politically connected lawyer and former wife of a local county commissioner, according to court records and multiple news stories.
Grippa, who once represented property and casualty insurers in state regulatory matters, is one of several women who had accused Rubin of sexual harassment. Rubin reportedly refused to hire Grippa as counsel. But her attorney at one point released texts that Grippa sent to a family member showing that she didn’t want to work for Rubin, anyway.
“Just had lunch with the person I was supposed to work for,” Grippa texted, according to FloridaPolitics.com. “He’s the biggest a-hole I ever met. You couldn’t pay me a million dollars to work for him.”
Patronis suspended Rubin. In July 2019 Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet fired Rubin, who had refused to resign after the harassment charges surfaced. In September 2020, Grippa filed suit against Patronis, the Department of Financial Services, the governor and other state officials who had approved Rubin’s hiring. She claimed negligent hiring and negligent supervision of Rubin while he was in office.
The DFS asked the Leon County Circuit Court in Tallahassee to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the state agency was protected by sovereign immunity. Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey refused to dismiss three counts of negligent hiring and supervision of Rubin.
Last week, the 1st DCA, based in Tallahassee, reversed Dempsey in part, noting that hiring of a political appointee was not a matter for the courts.
“Where one holds office at the pleasure of the appointing power and the power of appointment is coupled with the power of removal contingent only on the exercise of personal judgment by the appointing authority, then the decision to remove or dismiss is purely executive and not subject to judicial review,” the appeals court said in the per curiam opinion, quoting from a 1957 court ruling.
The court also stood on a 2004 Florida appeals court decision that held that a town’s building inspector was an appointed position, not subject to judicial review, despite complaints.
“This is precisely the area into which, under the separation of powers doctrine, courts must not intervene,” the 5th DCA wrote in its 2004 decision. “Only the voters, using the ballot box, are appropriate to second-guess the decisions of a Town Council at this level.”
Meanwhile, before Rubin left office in 2019, he made a number of allegations about Patronis’ office. He charged that he was fired in retribution for not hiring Grippa at the OFR, that the DFS was a corrupt agency, that the office had practiced extortion, had pressured Rubin’s father to make a political contribution and had released sexual harassment records illegally.
Rubin asked the state’s attorney general to investigate. Patronis denied all allegations. In May of this year, a local prosecutor’s office said it had found no wrongdoing and recommended that the inquiry be closed.
Grippa’s LinkedIn page shows that she now manages a law and mediation firm that specializes in commercial, employment and insurance law. Rubin has returned to Washington, D.C., according to news reports and his website.
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