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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Judge refuses to dismiss lawsuit by gallery owner trying to collect on 'Taj Mahal' artwork



A Tallahassee circuit judge has refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the owner of an art gallery that is trying to collect a bill for more than $357,000 for framed photos ordered by judges at the 1st District Court of Appeal.

In an order signed Tuesday, Judge Charles A. Francis also directed Signature Art Gallery owner Mary Maida to include the Department of Management Services and the Department of Financial Services as defendants in a lawsuit against contractor Peter R. Brown Construction Co.

The art was ordered for the court’s posh new $50 million building dubbed a “Taj Mahal’’ by critics. More than 400 framed historical photos were ordered by judges at the court who wanted to put up hallway displays of watermelon festivals, greased pig contests, tobacco farms, light houses and other Florida scenes.

The judges got the idea after legislators put up similar photos in hallways at the Capitol.

Chief Finance Officer Alex Sink refused to pay the tab because the cost exceeds the $100,000 state agencies can spend for art in a new building. Her successor, CFO Jeff Atwater rejected the bill for the same reason.

The judge’s order does not bode well for the state which could face paying the entire tab plus lawyers' fees and penalties for late payments.

The photos are just one of the costly measures install in a building filled with African Mahogany, granite desks and countertops, and 60-inch television screens.

The project, completed last year as other courthouses were cutting staff and postponing important repairs, has sparked controversy and misconduct charges against one of the judges.

-- Lucy Morgan, Times senior correspondent

[Last modified: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 5:24pm]


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