Senate sets tight timeline on Frank Artiles investigation

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Senate Rules Chair Lizbeth Benacquisto has appointed the chamber’s top lawyer to investigate a complaint by next Tuesday seeking to remove Sen. Frank Artiles from office.

Senate President Joe Negron announced the move Wednesday in a memo to senators.

Benacquisto “found that the complaint states facts supporting a finding of probable cause,” meaning it’s more likely than not that Artiles violated a Senate rule governing its members’ conduct.

Negron appointed Senate General Counsel Dawn Roberts to be a special master, a quasi-judicial officer who hears cases and makes recommendations.

Roberts, a lawyer since 1993, served as a legislative staff director before her appointment as chief attorney to the Senate last year. She also was interim Secretary of State in 2010-11, appointed by then-Gov. Charlie Crist when Kurt Browning suddenly quit.

Her “report and recommendation to the Committee on Rules (is due) by the close of business on Tuesday, April 25, 2017,” Negron said. 

“All parties involved in this incident are entitled to a fair, impartial and unbiased examination of the facts and a recommendation consistent with the current rules and historical precedent of this body,” he added.

“I encourage all Senators to be respectful of this important process and to refrain from participating in any activities that would jeopardize the impartiality of the ongoing investigation.”

Sen. Perry Thurston on Wednesday filed the complaint to remove Artiles.

The Cuban-American Republican from Miami-Dade County made national news after he accosted Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, and Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, calling her a “b—h” and a “girl” in a dispute over legislation at a private club in Tallahassee. Thurston and Gibson are black.

He also used a variation of the “N-word,” referring to her and to white Republicans who supported Joe Negron as Senate President.

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at