Wednesday, January 17, 2018
News Roundup

CFO Jeff Atwater asks Supreme Court for help in 'Taj Mahal' art case

TALLAHASSEE — Lawyers for Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater have asked the Florida Supreme Court to step into a fight between Atwater and the owners of a small Tallahassee art gallery that is attempting to collect an unpaid $357,000 bill for photographs prepared for the 1st District Court of Appeal.

In an emergency petition filed with the state's highest court late Friday, CFO attorney Michael H. Davidson asked the court to block attorneys for the gallery and Peter R. Brown Construction Co. from questioning Atwater and two top staffers on Tuesday.

Last week, Leon Circuit Judge Charles A. Francis ordered Atwater and his top staffers to answer questions under oath. Atwater has appealed the order and says he does not expect to get a ruling on that appeal before he is due to appear. Atwater and his precedessor, Alex Sink, have refused to pay for 369 framed photos saying the court was attempting to use money that can be used only for construction and furnishing of the building.

The Supreme Court has already been drawn into the fight at the request of 1st District Court Chief Judge Robert Benton, who says that the issues should be decided by judges who don't have offices in the new courthouse. As a result, the 5th District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach has been assigned to hear all appeals. Six other interlocutory appeals have already been filed in litigation involving 16 lawyers, two different circuit judges and three of the state's appellate courts.

Dubbed a "Taj Mahal'' by many, the new courthouse and its posh furnishings led to the resignation of former Chief Judge Paul M. Hawkes last January after he was charged with misconduct in connection with the push for such a fancy courthouse. The $50 million courthouse near Tallahassee was completed in 2010 at a time when other courthouses in the state could not even raise the money to repair leaking rooftops and malfunctioning air conditioning systems.

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