Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Getting the picture of court's big unpaid bill

Aside from the state's taxpayers and the reputation of our court system, one of the biggest victims of a posh new courthouse that many have dubbed a "Taj Mahal'' is a small art gallery in Tallahassee.

Mary Maida, owner of Signature Gallery, surely thought she could trust a group of judges who selected historical photographs they wanted to frame and hang in the new 1st District Court of Appeal.

Led by former judge, now magistrate, Charles Kahn and Judge Paul M. Hawkes, a court committee personally picked out some 400 photographs they wanted to enlarge and frame for hallways and offices throughout the $50 million building. The photos included historic scenes from North Florida: churches, courthouses, watermelon festivals, greased pig contests and the like.

They got the idea from legislators who have spent thousands of dollars framing and hanging historic photos all over the Capitol. Hawkes has been charged with conduct unbecoming a judge in connection with the new building, but the charges don't address the pricey photographs.

Maida carefully printed, enlarged and framed photos and had them ready to hang long before the building was completed last December.

The photographs remain in storage, awaiting the day the state may actually pay its debt to Maida. With the help of her husband, Tom Maida, a lawyer at Foley & Lardner in Tallahassee, Mary Maida has filed suit against the state in an effort to collect the $357,000 debt.

That's a big debt for a small art gallery caught in the midst of a very bad economy.

The trouble for Maida began when former Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink refused to make an initial payment for the work because the cost far exceeded the amount of money any state agency can spend for artwork on a new building. The judges had already ordered up some $100,000 worth of original paintings for the building in addition to the photos.

State law sets that limit at $100,000. The judges have questioned whether the photographs should be considered "art'' but have done nothing to pony up the money to pay the bill.

It's a ridiculous situation. If a vendor can't trust a group of judges to see that the bills are paid when they buy things, whom can we trust?

Maida filed suit against the Division of Management Services, the state agency responsible for construction of the new courthouse. Tallahassee Circuit Judge Charles Francis recently took the unusual step of directing Maida to include the builder, Peter G. Brown Construction, and the chief finance officer responsible for paying the state's bills as defendants in the suit.

Maida has refiled the suit at the judge's suggestion. It's already been a year since she completed work on the photos. Someday, after lawyers for both sides quit jockeying around, the state is likely to face payment of the bill plus interest, costs of storage and attorney's fees.

Taxpayers will once again be on the losing end.

If there is to be any justice in all of this, the court ought to find a way to make the judges pay. They are the ones who ordered the photographs despite a law that limited what they could spend.

Ignorance of that law, after all, is not an excuse acceptable in any courtroom.

Times senior correspondent Lucy Morgan can be reached at

Getting the picture of court's big unpaid bill 10/29/11 [Last modified: Saturday, October 29, 2011 4:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Pasco commuters watch out: Broken water main restricts State Road 52

    Public Safety

    NEW PORT RICHEY — A water main break has caused a portion of State Road 52 — one of the busiest roads in Pasco County — to buckle on Thursday afternoon, reducing three lanes of westbound traffic to just one.

  2. Man taken into custody after live streaming drive along Clearwater Beach sand

    Public Safety

    CLEARWATER — Clearwater Police took a man into custody Thursday afternoon after, they said, he drove his car over beach chairs and umbrellas along Clearwater Beach and streamed it on Facebook.

    Clearwater Police took a suspect into custody Thursday afternoon after he drove along Clearwater Beach to Caladesi Island, running over beach chairs and umbrellas. [Courtesy of Clearwater Police]
  3. Once trapped and wounded, manatee and calf return to the wild


    NEW PORT RICHEY — The small crowd readied cameras and craned their necks, peering over heads and through bodies to try and catch a glimpse. Brittany Pharel, 10, wanted to see the hulking manatees, a mother and her calf, laid out on blue tarps Thursday along the edge of the Pithlachascotee River.

    Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo's associate veterinarian Lauren Smith, 33, examines the heart rate of a manatee calf named Cottee just before it was released into the waters of the Pithlachascotee River on Thursday. 
Cottee's mother Pascow was released at the same time in New Port Richey. 
The pair became stranded in May and the mother was found wounded. They needed to be rehabilitated before they could be released into open waters. [ALESSANDRA DA PRA  |   Times]
  4. Gov. candidate Chris King: Climate change is biggest threat to Florida's economy


    Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King today made his case for how economic growth and fighting climate change go hand in hand. His rivals for the Democratic nomination, Gwen Graham, …

    Winter Park businessman Chris King and his family
  5. Editorial: Buckhorn's proposed tax increase is too high for Tampa


    Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn's proposed city budget for 2018 confronts some hard realities of the times. With debt payments looming and another fire station opening in fast-growing north Tampa, the City Council needs to consider raising property taxes, especially with the prospect of another homestead exemption around the …

    Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s proposed city budget for 2018 confronts some hard realities of the times. But it seems overly ambitious, and the City Council should be cautious about raising taxes too much in a single swoop.