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Grand jury to look at 1st DCA courthouse funding

A grand jury in Leon County will hear a complaint next week about the controversial new courthouse being built in Tallahassee for the 1st District Court of Appeal.

Leon State Attorney Willie Meggs said Wednesday that he has received a complaint from a citizen who wants a grand jury to review the situation surrounding the courthouse.

Meggs said he will bring the case to the grand jury when it meets Wednesday.

The new $48 million courthouse is being financed primarily with a $33.5 million bond issue that legislators authorized by an amendment slipped into a lengthy transportation bill the last day of the 2007 legislative session.

Many of the lawmakers who voted on the bill say they knew nothing about the bond issue until they read about it three years later in the St. Petersburg Times.

The courthouse project was pushed by 1st DCA Chief Judge Paul M. Hawkes and Judge Brad Thomas, both former legislative staffers familiar with the budgeting process. Neither of them returned messages Wednesday seeking comment.

Meggs would not identify the person who complained about the courthouse. He traditionally presents complaints from citizens to grand juries and says he lets the panel decide whether to investigate further.

Beyond returning indictments that charge crimes, Florida grand juries can review the actions of public officials and public agencies and can issue reports called presentments.

Such reports often are critical of public officials or entities and sometimes lead to changes in how a government agency does business.

Two years ago a complaint sent to Meggs about former state Rep. Ray Sansom prompted a grand jury not only to indict Sansom but to issue a scathing report of how the Legislature handled the 2007 budget. The report criticized a system that lets a handful of powerful lawmakers make multimillion-dollar decisions in secret.

The grand jury urged the Legislature to "clean up the process" and make Florida "an example to the nation as a state that works for the people and not the special interest of those who have money to influence the Legislature."

It was in that same 2007 legislative session that the $33.5 million bond issue for the courthouse passed the Legislature as an amendment to a transportation bill.

Grand jury to look at 1st DCA courthouse funding 09/22/10 [Last modified: Thursday, September 23, 2010 8:21am]
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