By Mary Thurwachter
A judge has recommended that the Florida Commission on Ethics dismiss allegations of sexual harassment against Lantana Mayor David Stewart.
Sellers presided over a full evidentiary hearing on the case in West Palm Beach on Sept. 24.
Stewart, 67, was accused of misusing his position to obtain a sexual benefit for himself and soliciting sex from a constituent based on an understanding his vote, official action or judgment would be influenced.
The Commission on Ethics is scheduled to take final action on the matter on March 6 in Tallahassee. But the panel, its website notes, "is limited in its ability to modify findings of the ALJ.”
In October 2018, the commission found probable cause to pursue both alleged violations.
“My attorney advised me that the administrative law judge has entered a favorable recommendation,” Stewart said. “I’m very grateful that the judge was able to see the truth. I’m hoping that the Commission on Ethics will concur and that my family and I can move on with our lives and I can focus on the needs of Lantana residents without these false allegations.”
The complaint was filed in January 2018 by Lantana resident Catherine Padilla, 55, who said the two had become friends when both attended meetings of the Hypoluxo-Lantana Kiwanis Club. The friendship took an objectionable turn in 2015, she claimed, when the two had lunch after a morning Kiwanis meeting, after which he drove her to a motel and propositioned her for sex. Padilla said she told him she “wasn’t interested” and that Stewart drove her back to her car.
Padilla said Stewart called her a week or two later and said he would guarantee her street would get speed tables, a safety measure for which she had lobbied, if she would have sex with him at the motel.
In August 2015, the Lantana Town Council voted in favor of the traffic-calming speed humps for Padilla’s street.
Stewart has consistently maintained that Padilla’s accusations were totally false and that he has never asked for, or accepted, anything in exchange for a vote.
Padilla said she had not received official word of the recommendation but was expecting to hear something by Christmastime.
“I never for a minute thought that this would be dismissed,” she said. She did not wish to comment further until she heard from the Commission on Ethics.