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Lawyer prosecuting 'Taj Mahal' judge defends tactics with witnesses

TALLAHASSEE — 1st District Court of Appeal Judge Paul M. Hawkes is not entitled to have a friendly prosecutor when he faces trial before the Judicial Qualifications Commission, says the Clearwater attorney hired to pursue charges against the controversial judge.

In a response to Hawkes' demand that he be removed from the case, JQC prosecutor F. Wallace Pope Jr. denied any misconduct was involved in comments he made while questioning witnesses.

Hawkes had intimidated witnesses who were being questioned about the judge's "improper lobbying efforts and the extravagant misuse of state funds" in building a new courthouse many have dubbed a "Taj Mahal," Pope wrote in a formal response filed Wednesday with the Florida Supreme Court.

In order to seek rapport with some of the witnesses, prosecutors can use humor, irony, candor, agreement with a witness, sympathy and even hyperbole to get witnesses to be more forthcoming, Pope said.

Subpoenaed witnesses questioned in the Hawkes case were conflicted, Pope said — under oath to tell the truth and reluctant to say anything that would affect their jobs. Some feared retaliation.

"A pattern emerged that when Judge Hawkes did not view a person as an impediment to a goal of his, he would treat that person civilly and professionally. But if he viewed the person as an impediment, he was intimidating, coercive and retaliatory," Pope said.

Hawkes is attempting to have Pope removed from the case because Pope described the judge as a "stooge" appointed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush in an effort to retaliate against courts, lawyers and judges he did not like. (Bush has denied having any animosity toward lawyers and suggested that Pope sounds "like a whack job.")

Pope made the remarks about Bush's appointees last November as he questioned Don Brannon, the court's former marshal, after Brannon bemoaned the deterioration of the court's reputation.

Before the discussion of Bush's appointments, Brannon had testified that Hawkes tried to intimidate him into changing his story about a trip that Hawkes tried to arrange for himself, a son and his brother. Hawkes allegedly solicited the trip from a furniture vendor.

Pope said his comments don't change the testimony of witnesses who say Hawkes abused state employees in charge of building the new courthouse and court personnel who say Hawkes solicited the trip, used his law clerk to help his son write a legal brief in a case that passed through the 1st District Court, or destroyed public records and misled other judges about fiscal matters.

Hawkes has denied any wrongdoing and claims the courthouse construction was done with the support of the entire court.

All the testimony was presented to a panel of JQC members who voted outside of Pope's presence to bring charges against Hawkes. The judge and his attorney were allowed to challenge the allegations at a hearing before charges were filed.

"Judge Hawkes was unable to persuade the investigative panel that the witnesses were biased against him," Pope said in his response. Hawkes now faces trial before a different JQC panel.

Pope says Hawkes' attempt to have him removed are an effort to "short circuit" the hearing process. He was not retained to be Hawkes' friend, any more than a U.S. attorney is employed to be a friend to the criminal defendants he prosecutes, Pope added.

Judge Paul L. Backman, chair of the panel that will hear the case against Hawkes, has scheduled a July 15 hearing to consider Hawkes' attempts to dismiss the charges and remove Pope from the case.

Lawyer prosecuting 'Taj Mahal' judge defends tactics with witnesses 06/22/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 22, 2011 10:40pm]
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