TALLAHASSEE — Chief Judge Paul M. Hawkes of the 1st District Court of Appeal got the lowest Florida Bar poll rating ever given an appellate court judge up for merit retention.
Hawkes, who headed the construction of a palatial new courthouse dubbed the "Taj Mahal" or "Taj MaHawkes," should not be retained in office, according to 53 percent of lawyers with "considerable knowledge" of him, according to the poll released Friday.
More than 5,000 lawyers participated in the poll evaluating the 31 justices of the Florida Supreme Court and the five appeal courts that face merit retention votes in November.
Combining lawyers who have "considerable" and "limited" knowledge of Hawkes, 56 percent say he should be retained. No judge has ever scored that low in a Florida Bar poll, a spokeswoman said. The previous worst scores were in the 70s, except for a 61 scored by Hawkes in 2004 and a 64 scored by fellow Judge Brad Thomas in 2006.
Judge Stevan Northcutt of the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Lakeland and Tampa scored highest: 93 percent of lawyers said he should be retained. The other 2nd District judges facing merit retention were endorsed by at least 86 percent of the lawyers.
The four justices of the Florida Supreme Court facing merit retention were endorsed by 85 to 88 percent of the lawyers.
Hawkes, a 53-year-old former legislator from Citrus County, was appointed to the court in 2003 by Gov. Jeb Bush. He previously served as a consultant to the House of Representatives and worked for Bush's budget office.
With budget cuts threatening jobs and cutting services in other courthouses, critics have lambasted Hawkes and the excesses in the 1st District courthouse, under construction about 6 miles southeast of the state Capitol.
The second-worst rated judge in the poll, Charles J. Kahn Jr., also is from the 1st District. He stepped down as chief judge after allegations that he sexually harassed women at the court. He received the endorsement of 71 percent of the lawyers.
At the other end of the scale in the 1st District, 92 percent of lawyers said Judge Phil Padovano should be retained.
Appellate judges in Florida face voters under a merit retention system. Voters have not rejected a Florida judge since the merit retention process began in the 1970s.