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Squabbling over space at the 'Taj'

TALLAHASSEE — Call it a "Taj Mahal tug-of-war" — between the chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court and the chief judge of the 1st District Court of Appeal.

Behind the scenes, the chief judges of the two courts are squabbling over space in the fancy new courthouse being built by the 1st District Court of Appeal.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles T. Canady wants the district court to share space in its new building with some of the court system's administrative staff, to save rent of $287,000 a year.

District Court Chief Judge Paul M. Hawkes, initially receptive to the idea, is miffed that representatives of his court were not invited to a meeting Canady had recently with the Department of Management Services, the landlord for most state office buildings.

"I am concerned that neither Chief Judge Hawkes, myself, nor any representative of this court was notified or invited to participate in this meeting," appeals court Marshal Stephen M. Nevels wrote to the DMS this week.

"I would have expected the courtesy of having a representative of the court included in any meeting where potentially significant changes to the building were going to be discussed."

Canady, Hawkes and DMS Secretary Linda South are scheduled to meet Wednesday to discuss the situation.

Canady's quest for space was in response to a request from Senate Appropriations Chairman J.D. Alexander, who asked all state agencies to find ways to get rid of rented offices by consolidating employees into state-owned space.

Hawkes initially was receptive to sharing part of the new courthouse, nearing completion about 6 miles southeast of the Capitol. He invited the court staff on a tour of the building.

Last week Canady asked the DMS to consider remodeling about 12,000 square feet in the courthouse to accommodate the administrative staffers. In a letter to Alexander, the chief justice called it a promising opportunity that would provide taxpayers with significant savings.

Hawkes and others at the district court, apparently unaware that Canady was meeting with the DMS, now object to sharing space.

In a highly unusual letter from the marshal, Nevels said security problems could arise from having "a large number of people working in the building that are not employees of this court."

Space for court administrative employees was discussed several times as the district judges lobbied for money to build the courthouse, which legislators authorized in a $33.5 million bond issue passed the last day of the 2007 legislative session.

In a speech to the Senate that day, Sen. Victor Crist said the bond issue would allow the new courthouse to be completed and allow the old courthouse building to be shared by the administrative staff and the Florida State University Law School.

But the sharing arrangement disappeared, leaving the administrative staff divided between the Supreme Court building and rental quarters a few miles away.

The DMS says it would cost about $532,000 to retrofit the new courthouse to house the administrative staff.

Crist said Friday he believes the court staff should share the old courthouse with FSU as originally planned. FSU was supposed to get the building at no cost in return for sharing it with the court, he said.

"It wouldn't make sense to move the court administrators to Southwood and spend all that money when they haven't even begun construction on the old building. It would be easier to do it there," he said.

Squabbling over space at the 'Taj' 10/08/10 [Last modified: Friday, October 8, 2010 11:21pm]
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