TALLAHASSEE — First District Court of Appeal Judge Paul M. Hawkes went on a Tallahassee radio morning show to "dispel" erroneous reports about the opulent new courthouse he's helped build.
Asked if he was forced to step down as chief judge, Hawkes did not answer. Asked again, he said his is not a job with a boss, nobody could force him to give up his leadership position.
He called back later, off air, and told the producer that he wanted to clarify what he said: Actually, Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles T. Canady had asked for his resignation as chief.
Hawkes stepped down Friday, seven months ahead of schedule. He remains on the court.
The interview Tuesday was on Tallahassee talk radio, WFLA-FM, The Morning Show with Preston Scott and producer Eric Eggers. Scott asked Hawkes about his decision to resign as chief.
Scott: "Why did you do it?"
Hawkes: "I think that I thought it was probably in the best interest of the court."
He talked of the good things he'd done — "It was always to make the court a better place" — and how the 1st District is the state's busiest, handling more cases than any other court.
Scott: "I guess the aftermath, the fallout of all of the controversy over the courthouse, you felt it was just not worth it for you to be a continuous lightning rod?"
Hawkes: "It certainly creates a distraction, yes."
Eggers: "Did anybody ask you to step down?"
Hawkes: "Ah, ah, I went to one of my … that's one of the things I'd like to dispel. There is absolutely no discord on our court at all … my colleagues have been so generous with their support and their attitudes that I am deeply gratified and indebted to them."
Eggers: "I'm sorry, your honor, is that a yes or no? Did anybody ask you to step down?"
Hawkes: "I've talked to lots of people, obviously, in reaching this decision. It was always a question of what might be best. Clearly, it's a constitutional office … it's not an employee kind of position. So no one could ask me to step down. There would have to be, I'm sure, some sort of process, but that's not what happened."
Soon after, Eggers said Hawkes had called back.
On air, the 29-year-old producer recounted the off-air conversation with the 53-year-old judge:
"When we asked him if anyone asked him to resign, he said no one can ask me to resign. He called back to clarify that Judge Canady did ask him to resign. He said he accepted the question in a hyper-technical way. …
"He said he doesn't want to mislead, so he said Judge Canady did ask him to resign," Eggers concluded on air. "I did think it was wildly evasive the way he answered the questions."
Also during the radio interview, Hawkes was asked about a trip he and other judges took to inspect the Hall of Justice built by the Michigan Supreme Court. Hawkes described the 2007 trip as modest, flying coach by commercial air at state expense. He did not mention the second trip, made by private jet in June 2008, chartered and paid for by the construction manager of the new Florida court.
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Questions surround Hawkes' decision to step down because the judicial conference Friday was held amid extraordinary secrecy.
The court traditionally keeps minutes for its conferences. But for the session where the chief judge relinquished his leadership and the other district judges voted Robert Benton their new chief, court attorney Kent Putnam said nobody wrote a single note that would be a public record.
"There are no minutes," Putnam said. "Also, my understanding is that no notes were taken so there will be no minutes of that meeting in the future."
Putnam later said the "matter of minutes of the Friday conference is under advisement, but they will have to be drafted and approved before they are public records."
Lucy Morgan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.