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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Judge Hawkes' trial likely for late January/early February if no settlement reached



1st District Court Judge Paul M. Hawkes is likely to face trial in late January or early February if he fails to negotiate a settlement with the Judicial Qualifications Commission.

Lawyers for the JQC and Hawkes are attempting to resolve their differences without a trial and discussed a schedule Friday with Judge Paul Backman, a Broward Circuit judge who is presiding over the JQC panel that will hear the case.

Backman chastised JQC attorney Wallace Pope and Ken Sukhia, the Tallahassee lawyer who represents Hawkes, for reaching an agreement to continue the trial without contacting him.

"I would have liked to be consulted,'' Backman noted. The judge will issue a new order rescheduling the trial after consulting other JQC members on the hearing panel.

Both lawyers apologized. The long delay before another trial date is selected is due in part to Sukhia's plans to get married in late November and move his wife and family to Florida in December.

Members of the JQC investigative panel which brought formal charges of conduct unbecoming a judge against Hawkes have already rejected one proposed settlement that would have avoided a trial.

All JQC negotiations are held in secret, leaving the public unable to determine what deal lawyers for the two sides might be considering but in past cases some judges charged with misconduct have offered to resign to avoid a public trial.

The charges involve Hawkes’ role in the construction of a new $50 million courthouse near Tallahassee that has become a symbol for government excess in the middle of a recession that has the state’s other courthouses cutting staff and services.

Hawkes is also accused of bullying other state employees, destroying public records and attempting to get a furniture vendor to provide him and relatives with a free trip.

The JQC has the power to recommend disciplinary action that could include Hawkes' removal from the bench. The Florida Supreme Court can accept or reject recommendations from the commission.

-- Lucy Morgan, Times senior correspondent

[Last modified: Friday, September 23, 2011 10:43am]


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