Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

'Taj Mahal' courthouse barges into a different case

TALLAHASSEE — Lawyers for a Lakeland firefighter filed a motion Wednesday asking that two judges on the 1st District Court of Appeal step aside because the opposing lawyer was among the "heroes" who helped the court get the money for a grand new courthouse.

Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, was opposing counsel in the workers' compensation case and appeared before a panel of judges that included 1st District Judges Paul M. Hawkes and James Wolf.

Both judges are members of the court's building committee and were among those asked to send thank-you letters to Ross and others deemed to be "heroes" in helping the court get money for a $48 million courthouse and $981,000 for a new workers' compensation staff at the court.

Maitland lawyer Geoffrey Bichler wants the court to reconsider its denial of benefits for David Bivens, a firefighter who sought compensation for hypertension and heart catheterization tests performed in 2005.

Bichler's motion states that Ross and Hawkes never disclosed the relationship and Ross' role in securing money for the court. Oral arguments in the case were held Aug. 19, 2008, a few months after the judges declared Ross a "hero."

"Judge Hawkes should recuse himself … because of the appearance of impropriety and the likelihood or potential of bias," Bichler's motion said. "… a reasonable person would believe that Judge Hawkes would be unable to decide the instant case fairly."

Because Wolf was among the judges who received Hawkes' memo declaring Ross a hero, Bichler said, Wolf also should step aside.

"It's up to the court to decide what to do,'' Ross said Thursday. "It's an unusual motion, but lawyers zealously represent their clients.''

Ross said he doesn't know what he did to be declared a hero by the judges because he was stripped of his chairmanship in a dispute with House Speaker Marco Rubio before the judges got the money for the new courthouse.

"This is coming from a police union lawyer,'' said Ross, who is now running for Congress. "It's just another attempt to impugn my integrity in the middle of a campaign.''

In his motion, Bichler said he became aware of the circumstances involving the two judges after reading a St. Petersburg Times story about the "heroes" who helped get funding for the courthouse.

He said the order the 1st District issued in the Bivens case contradicted decisions in similar cases that allowed compensation for workers with "essential hypertension."

His motion notes that the Code of Judicial Conduct requires a judge to step aside when he has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party or a party's lawyer or a reasonable person would question a judge's ability to decide a case fairly.

Bichler asked how a reasonable person could consider it fair for judges to decide a workers' compensation case in which they have called the opposing lawyer a "hero" for helping get them nearly $1 million for a new workers' compensation staff.

Lucy Morgan can be reached at lmorgan@sptimes.com.

'Taj Mahal' courthouse barges into a different case 10/20/10 [Last modified: Thursday, October 21, 2010 12:17pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Florida education news: Budgets, discipline, charter schools and more

    Blogs

    BUDGETING: Florida school district officials keep a close eye on their spending plans as they await word on the Legislature's budget. Gov. Rick Scott

  2. Forecast: Return of summertime pattern means afternoon storms on tap for Tampa Bay

    Weather

    As if Memorial Day wasn't enough of a signal that summer truly is upon us, this week's forecast across the Tampa Bay area will be a stark reminder.

    Tampa Bay's 7-day forecast. [WTSP]
  3. Tiger Woods says medication, not alcohol, led to DUI arrest in Florida

    Public Safety

    Players arriving for a tournament this week at Muirfield Village might notice a framed picture of Tiger Woods with a resplendent smile and bright red shirt. He's posed there with the trophy, an image that embodies the excitement he once brought to golf.

    This image provided by the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office on Monday, May 29, 2017, shows Tiger Woods. Police in Florida say Tiger Woods was been arrested for DUI.  [Palm Beach County Sheriff's office via AP]
  4. Manuel Noriega, Panamanian strongman toppled in U.S. invasion, dies at 83

    Obituaries

    Gen. Manuel Noriega, the Panamanian strongman and onetime American ally who was toppled from power in a 1989 U.S. invasion and who spent more than two decades imprisoned on drug dealing and conspiracy convictions, died late Monday. He was most likely 83.

    Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega waves to newsmen after a state council meeting, at the presidential palace in Panama City, where they announced the new president of the republic in 1989. Panama's ex-dictator Noriega died Monday, May 29, 2017, in a hospital in Panama City. He was 83. [Associated Press]
  5. Austin Mahone talks Pitbull, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, his pop evolution and more

    Blogs

    Austin Mahone has vivid memories from his childhood visits to see his grandparents in Tampa Bay.