Mostly Cloudy63° FULL FORECASTMostly Cloudy63° FULL FORECAST
Make us your home page
Instagram

Taj Mahal timeline: How a $50 million courthouse got in the budget but stayed off the radar

In an extraordinary case of collective amnesia, nobody can quite remember just how it happened. As the country headed toward the worst recession in years, the Florida Legislature handed $50 million to judges to build a courthouse now branded the Taj Mahal. The building that opens to the public Monday began as a request to spend up to $20,000 to determine if a floor could be added to the existing courthouse. Over the next four years — often in secret — it turned into a building fit for royalty and a multimillion dollar debt taxpayers will pay down for 30 years. The story of the Taj Mahal is told in documents — e-mail, minutes of court conferences and building committee meetings, and a trove of other records. It's remarkable for the over-the-top details — like the soundproofing in the judge's individual bathrooms — but mostly it's the way things get done in Tallahassee.

Documents were obtained from the 1st District Court of Appeal, the Florida Department of Management Services (DMS), Florida State University, the governor's office, the Legislature and other public agencies.

2004

May 26, 1st DCA judges meeting

Chief Judge James R. Wolf says the court has outgrown its 23-year-old building downtown and wants to spend no more than $20,000 to determine if a third floor could be added. The judges' vote to pursue the expansion option is unanimous.

Aug. 20, letter from DCA Budget Commission to Supreme Court

The group wants $100,000 to hire an architect and engineer to start planning expansion of existing building.

2005

February Though available documents have discussed nothing but expanding the current courthouse, the National Center for State Courts gives the clerk of the 1st DCA ballpark figures for building a new courthouse: An 82,000 square foot building would run about $210 per square foot in Tallahassee, about $18 million.

Records don't show who asked for the estimate. Judge Wolf meets with budget staff from the Legislature and from the office of Gov. Jeb Bush to discuss building a courthouse.

March 4, letter from Wolf to Supreme Court Chief Justice Barbara Pariente, who would have to sign off on building a courthouse

"Our present building is neither functional nor totally secure.''

The 50,000 square-foot courthouse is landlocked downtown. Consultants say the 15-judge court needs 68,000 to 77,000 square feet.

The St. Joe Co., a huge landowner and political player, has given the state rights to build on 15 acres of its Southwood development, about 6 miles east. An 85,000- to 90,000-square-foot courthouse could go there.

"We are confident a good facility can be built for $22 million.''

Wolf says the court considered expansion and explored a joint project with the FSU Law School, but parking is a problem. The state could donate the existing courthouse to FSU and save $287,000 annual rent by moving the Office of the State Court Administrator into the new courthouse.

March 14, 1st DCA judges meeting

The judges vote to pursue "with all vigor'' funds for a new courthouse. It's unanimous.

March 31 In letters to House and Senate budget officials, Wolf says it's urgent they start building: St. Joe included a "reverter clause'' for the land it made available to the state. Construction must start by Jan. 1, 2008, or the land reverts to St. Joe.

May 6 Legislature budgets $100,000 to plan expansion of courthouse.

Aug. 31 District Court Budget Commission approves 1st DCA's request to ask the Legislature for $19.8 million for a new courthouse.

Nov. 2, 1st DCA judges meeting

The judges tap the $100,000 the Legislature budgeted to plan expansion of the current building and instead plan to use it to complete a building siting and justification for a new courthouse.

2006

Jan. 20 Ten months after the 1st DCA said it wanted to move to Southwood, and three months after the court asked for $19.8 million to build a new courthouse, consultants say a new courthouse is needed. They recommend an 88,000-square-foot building at Southwood.

Estimated cost: $36.5 million.

February With every corner of government scrimping to make cuts, the 1st DCA judges split their request for building money across two budget years. This year they request $19.8 million, next year $16.7 million more.

May 5 As the judges plan a new building, the Legislature focuses on the old one. Lawmakers budget $1.8 million for an architectural and engineering study of expansion options.

May 10, 1st DCA judges meeting

New chief judge Charles Kahn Jr. says 1st DCA Judge Brad Thomas, formerly a staff director for Republican Sen. Victor Crist of Tampa, says his old boss "wants to help our court make this change into a larger facility happen.''

Crist chairs the Senate committee that controls the purse strings.

May 11, letter from 1st DCA judges to Gov. Bush

The governor has threatened to veto the $1.8 million unless the judges consider expansion. The judges say they're doing just that: "The project would reconfigure the 26-year-old existing courthouse space to more closely and efficiently accommodate contemporary work patterns, staffing arrangements and technology.''

May 12 1st DCA Judge Michael Allen e-mails colleagues that he has heard a lot of budget items are going down: "Although the rumor mill has it that a half billion dollars in capital projects might be vetoed, I know we can count on Judge Hawkes to see that our project is not one of the casualties.'' (Judge Paul M. Hawkes led the campaign to build the courthouse.)

May 25 1st DCA Chief Judge Kahn pledges to the governor that the court will evaluate "all reasonable alternatives'' and consider expanding the existing building.

That day, Bush vetoes $449 million from the state budget, the approximately half-billion dollars Judge Allen had heard rumored was on the chopping block. Still alive: $1.8 million for the 1st DCA.

June 2, Judge Kahn e-mails his colleagues

"No decisions have been made ... We are doing planning, but must still be cognizant that we do not yet have any construction money. Our ultimate decision must factor in the probabilities of obtaining funding.''

June 3, Judge Hawkes e-mails his colleagues

Don't be alarmed that Bush is requiring them to consider expansion, he just wants to make sure the court is "prudent with taxpayer funds. Anything we do along those lines is good with him. That is why the governor wants us to explore options. I don't believe he really cares which one we choose.''

Hawkes says Tom Lewis, head of the DMS, the state's landlord, has "a dog in the hunt'' because he wants to do a favor for FSU.

"I don't believe if we decide to move, we would have much trouble getting legislative approval for a change, as long as we kissed the ring(s). I think things are going great, and I'm excited.''

June 15, Judge Hawkes e-mails his colleagues

The court needs all the friends it can get in the Legislature, so other agencies that might need space in a new courthouse have been brought into the conversation "to increase the legislative noise level on a new court.''

July 31, Hawkes e-mails Chief Judge Kahn

Hawkes does not want to share a new courthouse with FSU.

Nov. 27, message to Gov. Bush from head of DMS.

A team that includes the architect, FSU and DMS recommends building a new courthouse at Southwood and donating the old one to FSU.

Dec. 5 Though the Legislature has not budgeted the first dollar for construction, FSU Law School Dean Donald Weidner e-mails friends: The decision is final, the court will move to Southwood; the law school will get the vacated building.

2007

Jan. 29-30 Four judges visit the Michigan Supreme Court, the first of what will be two trips there. They fly coach on a commercial jet and bill the state. The second time, they'll fly by private jet, no charge.

They like what they see in Lansing and set out to build a smaller version, including an eye-catching dome and rotunda, with massive columns out front.

The state hires the architects that designed the Michigan building, Spillis Candela, of Coral Gables, to assist Tallahassee architect Rick Barnett.

February Judges Hawkes and Thomas, both legislative veterans, embark on a marathon round of meetings and lunches with key legislators. Hawkes was a House member and a key aide to the House speaker. He and Thomas worked in Gov. Bush's budget office, and Thomas was staff director of a Senate committee.

"Judge Hawkes and Judge Thomas have been busy at the Capitol,'' reports the Feb. 20 1st DCA newsletter. "So far, the judges have met with the Governor, Lt. Governor, the Speaker, and over 30 other Senators, Representatives and various staff members to advise them of the project's status and to attempt to enlist their support.''

The judges said the new courthouse would be built with "non recurring revenue'' with "no need for more money from the Legislature.''

It's not the best time to ask for multimillions for a new building, not with state revenue plunging and budgets cut and cut again. The 1st DCA amends its $31.7 million request for 2007-08 to $24 million, plus $13.5 million next year.

March The Senate budgets $7.9 million for a new courthouse, the House $2.6 million. To raise the rest of the $39 million the judges say they need, the Senate agrees to push for a bond issue.

FSU gets the House to put $250,000 in the education budget for renovations to the existing courthouse.

March 28, 1st DCA judges meet with DMS and the architects

Hawkes offers two suggestions to help vest legislators in the project and increase the court's chances of getting the money.

One: Make key legislators ad hoc members of the judges' building committee. (They will be the senator Judge Thomas worked for, Victor Crist of Tampa, and the House member in whose district the courthouse would land, Rep. Marti Coley,)

Two: Ask to build an LEED Certified, environmentally friendly building. It will cost more but will draw support from legislators who like to vote green.

March 29 Lobbyist Steve Metz, an FSU alum who donates his time to the law school, reports a "POSITIVE'' meeting with House Speaker Marco Rubio and Appropriations Chairman Ray Sansom.

April In a newsletter, the judges say "the Legislature has encouraged us to seek LEED certification'' to make the building environmentally friendly.

April 26, Hawkes e-mails his colleagues

Judge Thomas has just told him "we are fully funded for the new courthouse.'' Total cost, with a bond issue: $39.9 million.

April 30 It's not over. Legislators still must authorize the bond issue. The final week of the session, the judges search for a bill they can amend with language approving bonds to build their courthouse. While the judges and FSU pin hopes on a bond issue, DMS and the State Board of Administration, which manages Florida bond sales, refer via e-mail and memos only to the originally budgeted $7.9 million for design and say bonds could be awarded next year.

May 1, Judge Hawkes e-mails the state court administrator

The price tag has passed $41 million. Hawkes blames the marketplace (the increasing cost of materials), the Legislature (for wanting to build an environmentally friendly building), and the governor's office (for wanting the building to be "nice'').

May 2 A Senate policy staffer suggests SB2376, which deals with performance bonds for public projects. But the bill is tabled, and the judges keep looking.

It's not easy getting extra money for a building when 31 jobs at the five district courts of appeal are being eliminated, when per pupil public school spending is being cut and even lawmakers are taking symbolic pay cuts.

Two days before the session ends, DMS tells the judges the bad news: No additional money this year, it will have to come from a bond sale next year.

The judges meet in conference. Hawkes says "the Legislature seemed to be willing to spend whatever funds necessary to facilitate building a high-quality new courthouse.'' Thomas says they are trying to get enough money "to produce a first-class courthouse that reflects the dignity of the rule of law.''

They will ask the Cabinet to give them the entire 15-acre site and not allow another building nearby.

May 3, next to last day of session

On the Senate floor, Victor Crist outlines key items in the new budget. He says he is "significantly proud'' money for a new courthouse also will benefit FSU's law school and the Office of the State Court Administrator.

"So with one simple investment we were able to meet the needs of three growing organizations.''

At 1:20 p.m., Crist introduces an amendment to House Bill 985. It's a "transportation train,'' a collection of 22 transportation bills bundled together. Legislative leaders use trains to pass controversial measures, by linking them in a "must-pass'' bill.

Most of the floor debate focuses on sections of the 142-page transportation bill that would allow private industry to take control of Florida expressways. On the last page, after a section that limits parking cars for sale on public property, comes Crist's four-sentence amendment authorizing a $33.5 million bond issue to build a courthouse.

Nobody questions it, nobody debates it.

Approved 37-2, it goes to the House.

At 4:22 p.m., a similar amendment is offered in the House, attached to a bill relating to county funding of court personnel. House records credit the amendment to Rep. Tom Anderson, R-Dunedin.

(Today Anderson says he doesn't recall the amendment and says he was feuding with DMS and would not have done anything to give the agency more responsibility.)

The amendment is withdrawn. It's not needed, a similar amendment is moving in H985, the transportation bill.

May 4 At the start of a House floor debate over turnpike issues in the transportation bill, Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City, lists five changes the Senate made, including the $33.5 million bond issue. "There was a glitch in our budget, and they picked it up and put it in this bill,'' Glorioso says.

Rep. Matt Meadows, D-Fort Lauderdale, complains that it was not discussed during the entire budget process. "I want to know how DMS is going to spend this money,'' he says. No one answers.

The House approves the bill, 68 to 49.

At 1:48 p.m. Judge Thomas e-mails DMS to advise that House Bill 985, the bond issue tucked safely inside, is on its way to the governor.

At 7:34 p.m., Hawkes e-mails DMS and his fellow judges questioning DMS over the construction schedule, the design and ownership of the building, its size and the conduct of architects.

Like much that happens in the final days of a session, an item buried in a lengthy, unrelated bill escapes mention by the news organizations that cover the Capitol.

May 7, Law school Dean Weidner e-mails FSU President Wetherell

Weidner says State Court Administrator Lisa Goodner asked about plans to share the old court building, which FSU thought it was getting exclusively.

"The approach she suggests is also inconsistent with all the conversations our alumni and I have had with legislators and representatives from the Governor's office,'' Weidner writes. He says he's sharing "this surprising and disconcerting news'' with alums who have been helping lobby the Legislature.

May 17 DMS signs a $2 million contract with Barnett Fronczak, the Tallahassee architectural firm. (Later, auditors will question why the job did not go to bid and why amendments to the contract nearly doubled the tab, to $3.7 million.)

May 22, Hawkes e-mails the building committee and DMS

"We want a building that is worthy. We think this is consistent with the Governor's expressed desire and legislative intent ... This kind of building would have a presence now and also well into the future. We don't sense a shared desire on this issue."

Some have been communicating without including the court: "... we feel it is essential that NO communications occur about this project without us being included.''

May 23, design meeting of the judges, DMS and the architects

The land at Southwood the court acquired from St. Joe has a three-story height restriction; the 1st DCA wants four stories. Hawkes says he'll "work his St. Joe contacts'' to get the needed variance.

May 24 Hawkes speaks to Chris Corr, vice president at St. Joe Co., about a variance. Hawkes and Corr served together in the House and on the Constitutional Revision Commission.

June 1, design meeting

The judges reject the first of several contracts drafted by DMS. They want more control and veto power over any proposal to put a second building on the 15-acre tract. Hawkes wants a "worthy'' courthouse without another building on the land.

June 6, 1st DCA judges meet in conference

They discuss using leftover budget money to buy furniture for the new courthouse, more than three years ahead of its completion. They decide to order new desks — the Jefferson Traditional style — for law clerks from Indiana Furniture, of Jasper, Ind.

June 19, 1st DCA Chief Judge Edwin Browning Jr. e-mails his colleagues

He has heard that applicants for the construction manager's job have contacted judges on the building committee directly to solicit the job. "It seems to me we shud not meet with them.'' Judge Thomas replies: "Some have already met with us.''

June 20, design meeting, judges, DMS and architects

If DMS has trouble getting Tallahassee city planners to approve their project, Judge Wolf says the judges could assist and "elevate'' questions to the mayor and city commissioners, "so the city planning dept would be more comfortable in working with us.''

The judges want a courtroom on the top floor for more "Wow'' factor. Southwood regulations limit buildings to three floors, but the judges want four. They discuss calling it three stories with a basement and ground floor entrance.

Gov. Charlie Crist's representative, Chris Kise, says the governor and Legislature want a "nice courtly facility but not at the expense of the four other DCAs and the Supreme Court with older facilities.''

June 28, DMS e-mails the judges

St. Joe has offered to extend the reverter date six months, to June 1, 2008.

July 9, design meeting

The judges don't want DMS "to interfere with the comfort of the staff or the livability of the building,'' including larger offices and natural light.

DMS agrees to waive the standard density limit of 180 square feet per person. (The new courthouse will end up with almost 1,000 square feet per person.)

The judges want a dome. DMS says domes cost more.

July 19 DMS selects Peter R. Brown Construction Inc. as construction manager. Before the contract can be signed, war breaks out between the judges and DMS. The court wants veto power over every decision. DMS says a project can't have two bosses, and it's DMS' job.

Aug. 1, 1st DCA judges meeting

They discuss how they can keep other buildings off the 15-acre site.

Hawkes talks about resistance from DMS, which wants to keep costs to $28 to $30 million. (The judges say it will cost more like $44 million.) Hawkes attributes the higher total in part to security needs and higher standards to be certified environmentally friendly.

The meeting minutes say: "While DMS seems to be concerned that an intermediate appellate court should not be as elaborate or better than the Supreme Court, it is believed that we will not exceed the Supreme Court in many areas, including the library, courtroom size, larger offices for the justices, better location and that they are the Supreme Court.''

Aug. 31, DMS' director of real estate e-mails Chief Judge Browning and the building committee

He questions why the judges disclosed their budget to contractors seeking the job. "This is like going to a car dealership and telling them how much you have to spend. Amazingly they have something that is 'just what you need.' ''

Oct. 8, design meeting

The judges want a glass dome over the lobby, bulletproof windows and individual temperature controls for each judge, with two additional thermostats in each judicial suite.

Nov. 7, 1st DCA judges meeting

Judge Wolf is working with the city to get permits.

Judge Browning opposes individual bathrooms for each judge but admits he's in the minority.

Nov. 9, DMS internal e-mail

Referring to the judges' "overarching attitude of control,'' DMS says it is "legally troublesome to have multiple principles'' in charge.

Nov. 28, Judge Browning e-mails DMS

Regarding DMS' insistence on control: "Your proposal prevents the court from fulfilling its duties to the Legislature and Governor's Office.''

DMS responds that the agency already has made concessions that are "unprecedented in our contracting process.''

Dec. 18 After nearly a year, DMS and the court agree on a contract that gives the court the same access to the construction manager as DMS and guarantees the court will be notified about everything.

(Later, state auditors will say "... key decisions regarding the courthouse by DMS were ceded to a few powerful 1DCA judges whose level of involvement raises questions of exercising good judgment and potential ethical considerations.'')

2008

Jan. 31, Judges Hawkes and Thomas write to Thomas' former boss, Sen. Crist.

They need more money. The huge glass dome and circular courtroom were not in the original estimates.

Permitting costs, estimated at $150,000, could run as much as $8 million. Improved security added $2.5 million.

"In the worst-case scenario, the project could be short by as much as $10 million.'' The judges want the state to sell $6 million more bonds.

Feb. 6, 1st DCA judges meeting

Chief Judge Browning declares the court "on the road back to capturing the high respect it has traditionally held'' after negative publicity during investigations of two of its judges.

The judges think the permitting fees the city of Tallahassee is charging are too high; 1st DCA Judge Wolf, who used to lobby for the League of Cities, is working with the city.

Feb. 7, Senate Appropriations Committee meeting

Summoned by Chairman Crist, Judges Hawkes and Thomas are in the audience as the senator talks about the crushing budget cuts to come: "Everyone will feel the pain. We'll downsize the system all the way up if we have to downsize the police on the streets.''

Though the judges had sent Sen. Crist a letter requesting more money, he tells the committee the judges are not requesting more money: "We've already given them what we're going to give them — it's a bonded project.''

Addressing the committee, Hawkes says environmental and security costs, added by legislators, raised the price.

"Whatever you say about security, it could be from Fort Knox down,'' says Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness. "Is this our Taj Mahal?''

"It's not a Taj Mahal,'' Hawkes answers. "I guess I thought it would cost what a house would cost but bigger. It's not the same, we can't use just any vendor.''

Sen. Crist says he met with DMS "to ensure there isn't a runaway opulent train here, we're putting safeguards in place . . . we'll monitor construction to the end to make sure the contractor and architect do okay. You are going to get an attractive building at normal standards.''

Sen Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa: "As Senator Dean said, we don't want a Taj Mahal — we can't afford to have one even if we want it.''

Sen. Crist: "We're going to be watching closely.''

Feb. 25, Chief Judge Browning e-mails Barnett, the architect

Hawkes had requested changes that exceeded the budget, and DMS told Barnett to hold off making them. Nobody told Hawkes, who was furious. Sen. Crist demanded Barnett's head but changed his mind.

Now Browning tells Barnett that the judges have voted not to ask that he be fired — after putting new terms in his contract that require all communications include the judges.

Sunday April 27 Lawmakers agree to give the court $5.5 million more, taking the money from the Workers Compensation Trust Fund, which pays the administrative costs of that system. Another $250,000 goes to FSU's law school, to plan renovations to the old courthouse.

At 6:39 p.m., Hawkes e-mails his colleagues

"This was on & off again as we went through the weekend during the final negotiations ... The final push seemed to be when Brad (Thomas) and I had a very successful meeting with Speaker Rubio and Brad followed up with the Senate.''

Hawkes says he got $981,688 in Workers Comp Trust Fund money to pay for a special unit at the court to handle all workers compensation appeals.

April 29, Hawkes' law clerk e-mails the judges

He identifies 31 "heroes'' who helped get the money, with an elite list of those "especially helpful'' that includes House Speaker Rubio, Sen. Crist, Rep. Coley and Rep. Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton.

April 30, DMS Project Manager Joanna Price e-mails Hawkes

"Reporter call — heads up,'' She warns that a Tallahassee Democrat reporter is asking how they got extra money to build a courthouse when school and health care budgets were being cut.

Hawkes writes back. He's handled the reporter. "I told him this is a three-year project, tied with other decisions that have been made, good for the economy etc. We did not talk that in any way this was an expensive building.''

May 28, Hawkes e-mails the building committee

Among details he discusses: upgrading the quality of the carpet in the judicial suites, the width of parking spaces, and on the judge's private bathrooms, "what level of sound proofing are you providing?''

June 9, Browning e-mails his colleagues

Some judges want another look at the Michigan courthouse with the architects and construction manager, and at their expense. Browning calls such a trip "ill advised'' and says he's not going.

"It seems inappropriate to me for court members and employees to be flying at the contractor's expense when we are in a supervisory role to the contractor.''

He would not have authorized court funds for the trip, and DMS refused to pay for it.

Judges Hawkes, Thomas and Wolf take a private jet chartered by Peter G. Brown Construction. The project manager e-mailed the judges and others to make sure the trip was legal. "Prior to our going I just wanted to confirm that this trip would be no violation of state laws nor would it create any conflict for the court ... I just want to be completely sure we are on safe ground.''

He received no e-mails in reply.

Aug. 12, Cabinet vote

Without discussion, the governor and Cabinet unanimously approve the sale of $37.5 million in bonds to build the courthouse.

November, e-mail traffic

The judges share economic news: Unemployment is 6.5 percent, up 2.3 percent in a year; 76,000 jobs lost statewide.

Nov. 17 Hawkes' former law clerk asks if they've scheduled the mid-November groundbreaking.

Judge Thomas: "No groundbreaking ceremony will be held.''

The former clerk: "That's too bad but understandable when they are talking special sessions for budget cutting.''

Nov. 18 The bond issue is sold to UBS Securities at a bid of 5.4395 percent — $35,460,000 includes first year debt service of $2.4 million. The Legislature releases $1.5 million needed to finish design.

2009

Jan. 7, 1st DCA judges meeting

Hawkes takes over as chief judge. He receives a ceremonial shovel used at the groundbreaking of the existing courthouse, which opened in 1981, and a crown, passed from chief judge to chief judge across the years. Browning, the outgoing chief, quotes Shakespeare: "Uneasy is the head that wears a crown.''

Hawkes says he hopes his two years as chief will be marked by openness to suggestions and to criticism.

"He further expressed his desire that when the court looks back at the end of his service as chief judge, that they will believe that the court was made better during his term.''

Jan. 20, Hawkes e-mails his colleagues

He lives at Southwood and drives by the site on his way to work. Today heavy equipment was moving dirt. "We have lift off,'' he e-mails. "It has been about 5 years since J Wolf sent out an email asking about ways to address our space problem.''

Paraphrasing President Lincoln, Hawkes says: "our efforts will not be long remembered, but they are of great note ... even though judges in the future will serve there and never know us, or appreciate the hundreds of hours we devoted, they will have a building (about $50 million) to work from that has a civic presence appropriate to a court house. I think we have done great.''

Jan. 29, Hawkes and DMS exchange e-mail

To save $4,000, the judges call off the groundbreaking ceremony and want DMS to break the bad news to one of their building's biggest champions, Sen. Crist, who wanted to attend the ceremony.

Feb. 3 Peter R. Brown Construction Co. sets $36.7 million as the "guaranteed maximum price'' for the building itself. (Auditors will criticize how a year later, the "guaranteed maximum price'' was reset at $37.8 million.)

Feb. 9, internal DMS memo

DMS informed Sen. Crist they've canceled the groundbreaking. "He is okay with not having this event, but would still like to be involved in a ribbon cutting.''

Feb. 10, DMS e-mails the marshal of the 1st DCA

DMS reminds the judges they have a budget for art purchases: State law limits spending on art for a new building to $100,000.

June 15 The 1st DCA contracts with Signature Art Gallery in Tallahassee to buy 379 historic photos, to be framed and hung in the new courthouse. Contract total: $357,000.

July 23, Hawkes e-mails DMS and the design team

He wants manufacturers to send samples of chairs under consideration for an employee break room. Not liking those the consultant suggested he surfed the Internet. "These are a couple I found that I think I like better.''

Nov. 30, call from governor's budget staff to State Court Administrator Lisa Goodner

The budget staff asks: Does the court system's budget include money to pay the $833,220 half-year rent due in January 2011?

The 1st DCA paid no rent at its downtown building, but by state law, DMS owns the new court building. Florida taxpayers are paying not only to build the courthouse but also to rent it for 30 years, until the bond debt is retired. By then, the bonds will have cost taxpayers $73 million.

Dec. 24, Hawkes e-mails the construction manager

He complains the contractor did not include the judges in discussions about extending the project completion date: "There should be no review with anyone unless we are invited.''

2010

Jan. 27, Hawkes e-mails the construction manager and architect

He gives final approval of granite colors for countertops, bathrooms and desktops: tropic brown and taupe.

Feb. 10, meeting of DCA Budget Commission

The commission, which includes representatives from all five district courts, questions a request for $833,230 for six months rent of the new courthouse. Because the district courts submit a single budget request, the other courts now must absorb the extra $1.6 million a year in rent.

Feb. 17, Supreme Court conference

Supreme Court Chief Justice Peggy Quince summons Hawkes, seeking an explanation of how the court gave up a rent-free building and committed the state to spend annual rent of $1.6 million without consulting the court's budget authorities. She also asks how the court can justify taking the money from the workers comp trust fund.

A few days later, in an e-mail to State Court Administrator Lisa Goodner, Hawkes jokes about Quince's summons: "I will just tell them that Lisa did it, and I know nothing about it.''

Feb. 18, e-mails between the 1DCA judges and the construction manager

The judges are considering the locations of bronze seals to be embedded in the black and white terrazzo floors, and the placement of etched glass on doors and windows.

Feb. 24, Supreme Court conference

The court approves the 1DCA budget request but will not seek it from a trust fund. The meeting minutes include no other details.

March 23, project manager e-mails the judges, DMS and the architects

It would cost $258,800 extra to pave the parking lots and drives with concrete. Hawkes says to go back to the original design and use asphalt paving everywhere — except on the ramp into the judges' underground parking garage.

March 29, e-mail from the court's IT expert to the marshal

A consultant says the judges want to add 29 television sets to the original plan. Hawkes wants a 60-inch flat screen TV for the main judge's conference room, plus additional 60-inch screens for each judge's office, plus TVs for the clerk's office, break rooms and exercise room.

June 3, a purveyor of fine art e-mails the building committee

The judges are looking at "faux painting'' the columns inside the rotunda to look like marble. They've found an artist with a national reputation, an FSU grad who worked on Tommy Hilfiger's place at the renovated Plaza Hotel in New York.

June 25, project manager e-mails the building committee

It will cost $84,196, less than expected, for 20 of the 60-inch Sharp flat screens for the judges' offices and a few other places. There also will be five 46-inch screens and five 40-inch screens.

July 12, Hawkes invites U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to speak at a courthouse dedication ceremony

"At 110,000 square feet, it is nearly twice the size of our current courthouse … (we) believe it will be one of the most impressive state courthouses in the country.''

July 19, Hawkes e-mail to Comcast officials

"Full basic cable'' service for TVs will cost $211 a month.

July 30, memo from Senate Ways and Means Committee to all state agencies

"It is imperative that together we continue to move forward to find ways to reduce state costs wherever possible.'' The memo asks agencies to find ways to share space.

Aug. 4, Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady letter to 1st DCA

Judges across Florida are being asked to identify where they can cut budgets another 5 percent. Canady asks the 1st DCA to share space in the new building with the court system's administrative staff.

Hawkes e-mails his idea to the building committee. He suggests using some extra room in the new building for storage so they can get rid of leased warehouse space. Savings: $7,000 a year.

He doesn't want the administrative staff working in the courthouse; it would be inefficient, the extra space is scattered throughout the building.

Aug. 9, St. Petersburg Times publishes details of the new court building and how it was funded

Shortly after noon, Judge James Wolf e-mails the other judges: "While reading this article, I had one overriding thought. Our colleagues Judge Hawkes and Judge Thomas, deserve our support. While we may not agree with everything that is going into the new courthouse, Paul and Brad have worked tirelessly for the benefit of the court. I want them to know the court appreciates their efforts.''

Aug. 10, Hawkes e-mails Chief Justice Canady

He offers two future judicial suites as possible areas to house administrative staff.

Aug. 13, 1st DCA marshal e-mails project manager

He asks about installing 23 microwave/convection ovens, two dishwashers and three icemakers.

Aug. 24, meeting of District Court of Appeal Budget Commission

The judges discuss dwindling revenues and possible salary reductions. The commission has a request from Chief Justice Canady to help the 2nd District Court of Appeal repair a mold problem that is contaminating the air and endangering employees. The group postpones action to assess available funds.

The judges discuss a legislative requirement that they identify another 15 percent in potential budget cuts for 2010-11. Hawkes says it's "irresponsible to present these reductions.''

Aug. 30, CFO Alex Sink orders an audit of funding of the new courthouse.

She questions spending "scarce state funds on palatial accommodations at a single courthouse.''

Also this date, the project manager e-mails the building committee that Hawkes wants a signal light installed in both courtrooms so judges can flip a switch in their robing rooms and let people know the judges are about to enter.

Sept. 5, former Pinellas Circuit Judge Susan Schaeffer e-mails various officials

The new courthouse — "a colossal boo-boo'' — could damage the entire court system.

"Someone — the chief justice or someone better at least chastise the judges who brought on this furor or we will never be taken seriously again. Thanks to the First DCA. They have been a problem child . . . and it's obvious with the judges who are presently on that court, it won't get any better.

'"I thought it was now 'one for all and all for one.' Well you now know what kind of B---S--- that is. Don't ever trust them!''

Sept. 10, Hawkes e-mails his colleagues

He forwards an aerial view of the new courthouse with a photo superimposed over it of the Taj Mahal in India.

Sept. 29, conference of the Supreme Court justices

Chief Justice Canady confirms the court's interest in taking part of the new building for the Office of the State Court Administrator. DMS estimates remodeling would cost $532,560.

Sept. 30, letter from 1st DCA marshal to DMS

Marshal Stephen M. Nevels questions why the 1st DCA was not included in meetings DMS has been having with the Supreme Court. "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.'' Nevels said security and parking issues could arise from having others occupy the building and doesn't like that the proposal came so late.

"This is extremely troubling,'' 1st DCA Judge Kent Wetherell said of the court administrator's interest in the building. Judge Hawkes questions how the Supreme Court can change a project without legislative approval.

Oct. 6, Chief Justice Canady letter to Senate Ways and Means Committee

"The most promising opportunity we have to realize significant savings for the taxpayers'' is to move court employees into the new building and save rent of $300,000 a year.

Oct. 12, CFO Sink releases audit

Auditors found 17 instances where the court violated state law, rules or acceptable controls. The report accused DMS of losing control of the project, abdicating its authority to bullying judges who made decisions that escalated the price of the building by more than $3.5 million. (DMS says it met its responsibilities.)

Auditors faulted lawmakers for taking money from the workers comp trust fund and were especially critical of the 20 miles of African mahogany, the etched glass and granite counter and desktops. State law limits art expenditures to $100,000, but the court agreed to pay more than $513,000.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Canady refers the audit to the Judicial Qualifications Commission.

Nov. 19, 1st DCA clerk letter to Florida Supreme Court

The clerk reports that Hawkes stepped down as chief and Judge Robert T. Benton II was elected in his place. The judges, who rule on public records law violations, keep minutes of their meetings, but this time — when an election was held — they say nothing was written down.

Dec. 3, Chief Judge Benton letter to Supreme Court

The DCA plans to open the new courthouse Monday. The first oral arguments are scheduled Jan. 5. The judges randomly assigned to hear the arguments? Wolf, Thomas and Hawkes, the trio most responsible for the new courthouse.

Times researchers Caryn Baird and Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Lucy Morgan can be reached at lmorgan@sptimes.com.

The 1st District Court of Appeal

Florida has five districts that hear appeals from lower courts. The 1st DCA also hears most appeals of lawsuits involving the state and all workers comp cases. The district stretches from Pensacola across the Panhandle to Jacksonville and south to Gainesville. It has 15 judges, 114 employees in all.

Chief judges: James R. Wolf (2003-05), Charles Kahn Jr. (2006-07), Edwin Browning Jr. (2007-09), Paul M. Hawkes (2009-10), Robert T. Benton II
(Nov. 2010).

Taj Mahal timeline: How a $50 million courthouse got in the budget but stayed off the radar 12/17/10 [Last modified: Thursday, January 13, 2011 11:18am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2014 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...