Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Florida CFO Jeff Atwater must testify in 'Taj Mahal' case

TALLAHASSEE — Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater will have to answer questions under oath in a lawsuit filed by the owner of a Tallahassee art gallery that was never paid for framed photographs valued at more than $357,000 for the new 1st District Court of Appeal.

Attorneys for Atwater asked Leon Circuit Judge Charles A. Francis to prohibit lawyers for Signature Art Gallery and Peter R Brown Construction Co. of Clearwater from questioning Atwater saying he is a constitutional officer who cannot be forced to testify. But Francis ruled he must testify.

Michael H. Davidson, lawyer for Atwater, indicated he will appeal the judge's decision and seek a delay in any attempt to question Atwater.

A three-day nonjury trial is scheduled to begin Dec. 17.

Atwater refused to approve payment for the 369 photos selected by judges at the appellate court building many have dubbed a "Taj Mahal.'' The historic photos include scenes from watermelon festivals, greased pig contests and other events in North Florida.

The decision left Mary Maida, owner of the gallery, with custom framed photos in climate-controlled rented storage as lawyers for Atwater, the construction company, the gallery and the Department of Management Services wage a prolonged legal battle that began in 2010 after state auditors questioned the expenditure.

Robert H. Buesing, the Tampa lawyer who represents the contractor, contends Atwater should answer questions about statements he made during his 2010 campaign and shortly after he took office.

"I seek to show it wasn't an impartial decision,'' Buesing argued Tuesday. "I haven't been able to get at Atwater's thought process when this was the No. 1 issue in his campaign. Nobody else in the department can shed light on the campaign.''

Francis said he is anxious to settle the "unique and difficult case'' and believes the contractor and gallery have a right to question whether any bias caused Atwater to refuse paying the bill.

"This issue has gotten pretty heated,'' Francis added. "I'm concerned that a person who did the work as requested might be caught in this.''

The court's former chief judge, Paul M. Hawkes, resigned this year after being charged with misconduct for his role in the courthouse construction. Hawkes and other judges at the court lobbied state lawmakers for the $50 million project financed in part with a $35 million bond issue approved as part of a transportation bill in the closing hours of the 2007 legislative session.

Florida CFO Jeff Atwater must testify in 'Taj Mahal' case 11/27/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 8:38pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rays morning after: Wilson Ramos showing glimpses of what's possible in 2018


    The real payoff for the Rays signing C Wilson Ramos last off-season will come in 2018, when he can play a full season fully recovered from right knee surgery.

    And Ramos is giving the Rays a pretty good glimpse of what that can be like.

    In Friday's 8-3 win over the Orioles, he hit a grand slam - …

  2. Buccaneers-Vikings Scouting Report: Watching Kyle Rudolph, Adam Thielen and Everson Griffen


    No matter how much film we study, no matter how much data we parse, we just don't know how an NFL season will unfold.

  3. Pinellas construction licensing board needs to be fixed. But how?

    Local Government

    LARGO –– Everyone agrees that the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board needs to be reformed. But no one agrees on how to do it.

    Rodney Fischer, former executive director of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board Rodney, at a February meeting. His management of the agency was criticized by an inspector general's report. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  4. Sue Carlton: Job or family when a hurricane's coming — a very Florida conundrum


    It must seem as foreign to Northerners as shoveling snow is to those of us raised in the Sunshine State: The very-Florida conundrum of having to choose between work and family — between paycheck and personal safety — when a hurricane comes.

    A hurricane helps the rest of us acknowledge the police officers, paramedics, hospital personnel, public works employees and others who stay on the job despite the storm. 
  5. After Tampa concert, Arcade Fire members party, preach politics at Crowbar


    After waiting more than a decade for Arcade Fire’s first appearance in Tampa, fans didn’t have to wait long for their second.

    DJ Windows 98, a.k.a. singer Win Butler of Arcade Fire, performed at a "Disco Town Hall" at Crowbar following the band's concert at the USF Sun Dome on Sept. 22, 2017.