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Judge's effort to dismiss 'Taj Mahal courthouse' charges rejected

TALLAHASSEE — The Judicial Qualifications Commission Friday refused to dismiss charges pending against 1st District Court of Appeal Judge Paul M. Hawkes in connection with the "Taj Mahal" courthouse scandal.

Circuit Judge Paul Backman, chairman of the JQC panel that will hear the case against Hawkes, rejected multiple efforts to derail the charges and also rejected the judge's request to remove a prosecutor who referred to Hawkes as a "stooge" appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush because of his dislike for lawyers and the courts.

Hawkes is accused of conduct unbecoming a judge in connection with lobbying for state money to build a $50 million courthouse many Floridians have dubbed a Taj Mahal.

He is also accused of bullying state employees, destroying public records, attempting to get a free trip for himself and others from a furniture vendor and hiding budget information from his fellow judges.

Hawkes contends that the courthouse project was pursued by all of the court's judges "with one voice."

Backman rejected Hawkes' claim that comments made by special prosecutor F. Wallace Pope of Clearwater as he questioned witnesses warrant disqualification or dismissal of the charges.

"These may provide fodder for cross examination, but do not warrant disqualification or dismissal of the formal charges," Backman wrote.

Backman will issue an order setting an early November trial in Tallahassee. The JQC hearing panel can reject the charges or recommend disciplinary action against Hawkes or his removal from office. The Florida Supreme Court has final say on the recommendations.

Judge's effort to dismiss 'Taj Mahal courthouse' charges rejected 07/22/11 [Last modified: Friday, July 22, 2011 9:49pm]
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