Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Lawmaker asks House speaker to consider impeachment judges for roles in 'Taj Mahal' courthouse

TALLAHASSEE — A House Committee should consider impeaching 1st District Court Judges Paul Hawkes and Brad Thomas for their role in building a new courthouse critics call a "Taj Mahal," says Rep. Franklin Sands, D-Plantation.

In a letter sent to House Speaker Dean Cannon on Friday, Sands said the speaker should appoint a committee to consider impeachment of the two judges who lobbied for appropriations and a bond issue to build the $50 million courthouse while lawmakers were cutting budgets for everyone else.

Hawkes and Thomas and others at the court managed to get a $35.5 million bond issue buried in a transportation bill on the last day of the 2007 session and used their influence to intimidate officials at the Department of Management Services who were in charge of planning and construction.

Sands said he has reviewed an audit of the project and believes the finding of impropriety can be tied directly to Hawkes and Thomas. In addition to the role they played in getting taxpayer funds for the lavish building that opened in December, the judges accepted a free trip to Michigan from Peter R. Brown Co., the construction manager hired by the Management Services Department.

"In my mind this would constitute an illegal gratuity which I believe is outside the scope of their judicial role, and which could potentially constitute at least a misdemeanor in office," Sands wrote.

Florida's Constitution authorizes the House to consider impeachment for any judge for misdemeanors committed in office. The House speaker has the power to appoint a committee to investigate charges. It would take a two-thirds vote of the 120-member House to impeach a judge who would then be suspended until after a trial in the 40-member Senate.

"I believe we as elected officials have the obligation to our constituencies to further investigate these initial reports and claims," Sands wrote.

Cannon did not immediately respond to questions about the letter. In a Legislature controlled by Republicans, it is unlikely that the leadership would pursue impeachment of two judges appointed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican, at the request of Democrats.

After the St. Petersburg Times disclosed details of the courthouse project last year, Supreme Court Justice Charles T. Canady asked the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission to investigate the judges, but the commission has yet to take public action.

Investigations by the JQC remain secret unless they result in formal charges against a judge. The commission can recommend disciplinary action or removal by the Supreme Court. The commission was created in the 1960s so the state could discipline judges without using the more costly and time-consuming impeachment process, but both remedies remain a part of state law.

The new courthouse has sparked outrage by citizens and public officials alike. And lawmakers are considering several bills that would force the appellate court to share the building with other court employees or turn it over in its entirety to the Supreme Court.

Justice Canady also has approved new rules that prohibit all state judges from independent lobbying expeditions without Supreme Court approval.

Judges at the court have largely remained silent when faced with accusations but Hawkes and Thomas appeared before a Senate committee in January to respond to questions. Both judges issued an apology of sorts but committee Chairman Mike Fasano accused the two judges of being neither honest nor straightforward.

Hawkes and Thomas did not respond to a request for comment.

Lawmaker asks House speaker to consider impeachment judges for roles in 'Taj Mahal' courthouse 04/16/11 [Last modified: Saturday, April 16, 2011 10:24pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Man charged with threatening Florida lawmaker on Facebook

    Blogs

    From The Associated Press:

    MIAMI — A Florida man has been charged with threatening to kill a state legislator in a Facebook post. 

    This booking photo released by the Miami-Dade Police Department shows Steve St. Felix, who has been charged with threatening to kill Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in a Facebook post.
  2. Joe Maddon: What my time in Tampa Bay meant, and still means, to me

    The Heater

    Editor's note: The Rays next week in Chicago will meet up for the first time with former manager Joe Maddon, who is in his third year leading the Cubs after nine with the Rays. In advance of the Tuesday-Wednesday series, we asked Maddon to share his thoughts in a column on what his time in Tampa Bay meant to …

    Joe Maddon waits to greet B.J. Upton after Upton's home run in Game 2 of the ALCS in 2008 at Tropicana Field. [Times files (2008)]
  3. First WannaCry, now cyberattack Petya spreads from Russia to Britain

    Business

    Computer systems from Russia to Britain were victims of an international cyberattack Tuesday in a hack that bore similarities to a recent one that crippled tens of thousands of machines worldwide.

    A computer screen cyberattack warning notice reportedly holding computer files to ransom, as part of a massive international cyberattack, at an office in Kiev, Ukraine, on Tuesday.  A new and highly virulent outbreak of malicious data-scrambling software appears to be causing mass disruption across Europe.
[Oleg Reshetnyak via AP]
  4. Pinellas sheriff's corporal had racist, sexist, pornographic content on his cell phone

    Public Safety

    LARGO — A Pinellas County sheriff's corporal resigned recently after an investigation into an alleged extramarital affair revealed a trove of racist, sexist and pornographic images on his personal cell phone.

    Shawn Pappas, 46, resigned as a training division corporal from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office after an investigation revealed a trove of offensive images and videos on his phone. This photo was taken as a screenshot from one of the videos released by the Sheriff's Office that Pappas filmed while on duty. [Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
  5. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine reflects on the news from the Congressional Budget Office analysis that could imperil GOP leaders' hopes of pushing their health care the plan through the chamber this week, Tuesday, on Capitol Hill in Washington. [AP photo]