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Judge Hawkes tries to get prosecutor removed from Taj Mahal case

TALLAHASSEE — F. Wallace Pope Jr., the Clearwater lawyer who is prosecuting 1st District Court Judge Paul M. Hawkes for misconduct, viewed Hawkes as a "stooge'' appointed by Jeb Bush because he thought the governor hated judges, lawyers and the courts.

That's the accusation filed Tuesday with the Florida Supreme Court in an effort to get Pope removed from the case. Hawkes bolstered his accusation with exerpts of transcripts made in November as Pope questioned potential witnesses in the Judicial Qualifications Commission case.

Ken Sukhia, the Tallahassee lawyer who represents Hawkes, filed a 65-page motion accusing Pope of having a political and personal bias against Hawkes and the governor who appointed him.

That bias "has tainted this entire proceeding and destroyed his ability to perform his duty as the prosecutor and legal representative of the commission without valid suspicion and skepticism as to his fairness and the propriety of his actions,'' Sukhia contends.

On Nov. 22, 2010, as he questioned former Marshal Don Brannon, Pope asked about things that had gone wrong at the court and the following exchange occurred:

Brannon: .…it was the best appellate court in the state of Florida.

Pope: It was.

Brannon: And to see where it went to when judges like this from political appointments who were definitely not the most qualified are now appellate judges of our court of our state…

Pope: Right.

Brannon: It's a sad state of affairs.

Pope: It is a sad state of affairs.

Brannon: It is. It is.

Pope: I will agree with you. I think that's unfortunately one of the gifts that Jeb Bush gave us.

Brannon: Jeb Bush. Amen.

Pope: Because he hated courts and he hated judges and he hated lawyers.

Brannon: I know. Some people had the opinion that was his way of putting the court down...

Pope: Oh, it was.

Brannon: …is put bad judges on it.

Pope: Put your stooges on there.

Brannon: We got our share over there, we did. It's sad.

Contacted by e-mail Tuesday, Bush said he doesn't know Pope, "but he seems like a whack job. I am proud of the judges I appointed. I love lawyers! My son and daughter are both lawyers.''

The accusations are the latest in a legal battle that began in October when Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles T. Canady referred an audit of a $50 million courthouse being built by the 1st District Court of Appeal to the commission that investigates judicial misconduct. The courthouse, filled with lavish mahogany, granite and kitchens and bathrooms for each of the 15 judges on the court, has been dubbed the Taj Mahal by critics.

Hawkes, first as a member of the building committee and later as chief judge, led the court's effort to lobby for the money to build the courthouse. The commission has accused him of conduct unbecoming a judge for his role in lobbying for the courthouse and failing to act with "patience, dignity and courteousness" expected of judges.

In a motion filed last week to dismiss the charges, Hawkes says he should not be singled out because all of the judges on the court spoke with "one voice'' in making decisions about the new courthouse.

Hawkes is also accused of destroying public records, attempting to get a free trip for himself and others from a furniture vendor, abusive treatment of court employees and using his law clerk to help his son write briefs for a case on appeal from the district court to the Supreme Court. Hawkes says the prosecutor ignored explanations that would justify his conduct when the charges were filed.

In a response filed late Tuesday, Pope said Hawkes is not entitled to seek dismissal of the charges but will be afforded an opportunity to cross examine all witnesses at a hearing to be scheduled later this year. Hawkes has received "fair notice'' of the charges and can resolve the dispute only by presenting evidence at a hearing. Pope reminded Hawkes that every law student learns on the first day of civil procedure class that factual disputes cannot be decided on motions to dismiss.

In his motion, Sukhia alleged that Pope's reckless disregard for the truth or falsity of accusations made against Hawkes and his suggestive comments to witnesses as well as improperly allowing an attorney from the Department of Management Services to be present during confidential sessions taint the case.

Pope declined to comment on the allegations.

Broward Circuit Judge Paul L. Backman is the chairman of the panel that will decide the case against Hawkes. The commission recommends disciplinary action, but it will be up to the Supreme Court to decide what, if any punishment is imposed on Hawkes. He could be reprimanded or removed from the court if the charges are sustained.

Read the motion

See the motion filed to disqualify the prosecutor in the Hawkes case at links.tampabay.com.

Judge Hawkes tries to get prosecutor removed from Taj Mahal case 06/14/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 14, 2011 6:22pm]
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