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Appeals court judge in Taj Mahal case seeks dismissal of charges

TALLAHASSEE — Lawyers for 1st District Court of Appeal Judge Paul M. Hawkes urged the Judicial Qualifications Commission Friday to throw out charges filed against him this year in connection with the Taj Mahal scandal.

Circuit Judge Paul L. Backman, chairman of the JQC panel that will play a major role in determining whether Hawkes remains on the bench, said he will rule next week on Hawkes' request to dismiss the charges and eject special prosecutor Wallace Pope Jr.

Hawkes is accused of multiple counts of conduct unbecoming a judge in connection with the way he lobbied legislators for money to build the posh $50 million courthouse many have dubbed a Taj Mahal.

He is also accused of intimidating state employees in charge of construction, destroying public records and attempting to get a furniture vendor to provide him and others with a free trip.

Describing the charges and Pope's conduct as outrageous, Tallahassee lawyer Ken Sukhia said Hawkes is entitled to an unbiased prosecutor and a process free of any taint.

While questioning witnesses in November, Pope described Hawkes and other judges appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush as "stooges" inflicted on a court system Bush disliked.

Pope said the comments were made in an effort to establish rapport with a witness after the witness expressed concern for the quality of judges appointed by Bush.

"The judge doesn't have control over the way the investigation is done," Pope said.

Hawkes appeared before the JQC's investigative panel in April and spent more than four hours responding to questions about his conduct before the panel voted to file charges.

"The investigating committee was not persuaded and filed formal charges," Pope said.

The JQC could recommend disciplinary action including removal from office but it will be up to the Florida Supreme Court to decide what happens to Hawkes.

Appeals court judge in Taj Mahal case seeks dismissal of charges 07/15/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 19, 2011 12:50pm]
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