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Judicial Qualifications Commission wants future jurisdiction for former Judge Paul Hawkes

TALLAHASSEE — On his way out the courthouse door Wednesday, 1st District Court Judge Paul Hawkes was told by the Judicial Qualifications Commission that they'll be waiting if he ever tries to be a judge again.

In a formal notice that must be approved by the Florida Supreme Court, the JQC cited a 2005 decision involving an Orlando circuit judge who was removed from the bench because his misconduct would raise questions about the integrity of the state's judicial system.

"Should Judge Hawkes claim future judicial office, the Commission and this court have continuing jurisdiction,'' JQC prosecutors Michael L. Schneider and F. Wallace Pope Jr. wrote.

Hawkes turned in his resignation in November after he failed to negotiate an agreement that would leave him on the bench. His resignation was effective Wednesday, a day before members of a North Florida Judicial Nominating Commission meet to interview more than 20 lawyers and judges who want to replace Hawkes.

The charges against Hawkes stem from his involvement as chief judge in lobbying state lawmakers for money and accusations that he bullied state employees charged with overseeing construction to build a posh $50 million courthouse Floridians have dubbed a "Taj Mahal.''

The courthouse was completed in late 2010 with miles of African Mahogany trim, granite desks and countertops, bathrooms and kitchens for every judge and other luxuries that are virtually unknown in a court system where employees are being laid off , leaky rooftops go unrepaired and judges are swamped with higher caseloads.

Hawkes was also accused of destroying public records, trying to get a free trip from a furniture vendor for himself and two relatives, and using his law clerk to help his son with a legal brief.

A former Citrus County legislator who repeatedly tried to become a judge before he was appointed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush in 2002, Hawkes has denied any wrongdoing. He was not available to comment Wednesday.

Other judges at the court said Hawkes resigned to avoid the cost and spectacle of a trial that would have pitted some judges against others and court employees against judges.

The court, arbiter of appeals for most cases involving state government and all workers compensation appeals, has been at the center of an internal storm for a decade. The trouble among judges initially surfaced in 2006 in a dramatic disagreement over an appeal filed by former Senate President W.D. Childers after a bribery conviction.

Three times the JQC, the state agency responsible for disciplining judges, has investigated judicial misconduct at the court.

In one instance 13 of the 15 judges filed a complaint against Judge Charles J. Kahn, who has since left the court to become a federal magistrate in Pensacola. They accused Kahn of sexually harassing women on the court system payroll. One of those women, a clerk, posted pictures of herself and Kahn at a hotel where he was attending a Florida Bar convention.

The JQC rejected the sexual harassment allegations and took no public action against Kahn. But the Commission did charge Judge Michael E. Allen with conduct unbecoming a judge because he wrote an opinion questioning Kahn's involvement in the Childers case. Kahn led an effort to reverse the former senator's criminal conviction, but his decision was upended before it was published after 10 of the court's judges stepped in and voted to uphold the conviction.

Allen questioned the public perception of a decision issued by a judge who was once a law partner of Fred Levin, a Pensacola lawyer and close friend to Childers, a longtime power player on the state's political field.

The JQC found Allen guilty of misconduct and he was given a public reprimand by the Supreme Court before he retired to return to the practice of law.

The Allen trial featured judges pitted against each other and some court employees who described the judges as mentally unstable and liars given to temper tantrums. The court's marshal testified that he had to increase security at the courthouse because one of the judges was getting a concealed weapons permit to carry a gun.

Hawkes' departure avoids another public look at life inside the court. Several current and former judges were among those named as potential witnesses. Other witnesses were state employees who supervised construction of the building and engaged in hostile encounters with the judges.

Judicial Qualifications Commission wants future jurisdiction for former Judge Paul Hawkes 01/04/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 4, 2012 5:14pm]
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