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. For starters: Rays at Rangers, with Erasmo on the mound again


    Coming off Sunday's 6 1/2-hour, 15-inning marathon win over the Twins, the Rays will have the pitcher who finished that game, Erasmo Ramirez, start tonight's game in Texas, first pitch 8:05 Tampa Bay time.

    Ramirez threw only 12 pitches on Sunday so the Rays decided to let him make his planned start tonight, …

  2. Curlew Hills Memory Gardens honors Memorial Day (w/video)


       Curlew Hills Memory Gardens honored those that served during their 31st annual Memorial Day Service on Monday (5/23/17) in Palm Harbor. The event featured guest speakers, live choral performances by the Palm Harbor United Methodist Church choir and live music by Bones South, an area trombone ensemble with …

    Eight-year-old Piper St. Jean, of Tampa, uses a brush to clean the grave of her grandfather, Henry St. Jean, who served with the United States Air Force during the Korean and Vietnam wars. at Curlew Hills Memory Gardens on Monday moments after the conclusion of their 31st annual Memorial Day Service on Monday (5/23/17) in Palm Harbor.
  3. Authorities release name of Tampa woman killed in Temple Terrace apartment fire


    TEMPLE TERRACE — Authorities have released the name of a woman who died in a fire that destroyed a dozen units in an apartment complex here Sunday.

    Firefighters battle an early-morning fire Sunday that claimed the life of 28-year-old Tenecia Renee Brannon and left about 30 others homeless. [Temple Terrace Fire Department]
  4. New Port Richey restaurant worker shoots attacker


    NEW PORT RICHEY — A restaurant kitchen worker shot and injured a man who entered the business and began beating him Saturday, according to New Port Richey Police.

    Vince Angelety, 29, of New Port Richey faces a charge of burglary with simple battery. He remained in the Land O'Lakes Detention Center on Monday, held without bail. [Photo courtesy of the Pasco County Sheriff's Office]
  5. Romano: Florida loves its troopers, right up until payday


    Holy smoke, did you see the starting salary figures for Florida Highway Patrol officers outlined in a recent Tampa Bay Times story?

    Florida Highway Patrol troopers secure the scene after a fatal accident in Orange County earlier this year. [Red Huber | Orlando Sentinel via AP]