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Senators clash on continuing courthouse scrutiny

TALLAHASSEE — Sen. Mike Fasano says Senate President Mike Haridopolos ordered him this month to drop further scrutiny of the lavish new courthouse critics call the "Taj Mahal."

Haridopolos says he did no such thing.

The point-counterpoint developed after Fasano told the St. Petersburg Times that Haridopolos "made it clear he didn't want me to deal with this issue any more. I was told to leave this issue alone."

At a midday press availability Wednesday, Haridopolos was asked if he ordered Fasano to end the investigation.

"I think the point has been made," Haridopolos said. "I've asked Sen. Fasano for recommendations based on his work."

A reporter relayed those comments to Fasano, who said he was stunned.

Fasano said he was summoned to Haridopolos' office shortly after a Jan. 12 committee meeting of the Senate Committee on Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations, which Fasano chairs.

Two judges from the 1st District Court of Appeal answered questions about their new, $50 million courthouse, whose big-screen TVs, private bathrooms and expensive paneling have drawn public outrage.

Fasano said he believes the committee needs to further explore the issue because he thinks Judges Paul M. Hawkes and Brad Thomas lied to the committee.

Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said that if Haridopolos hadn't warned him off, "I'd be asking staff and the committee for recommendations."

Later Wednesday, responding to followup questions from Times reporters, Haridopolos said he believes Fasano misunderstood him and is free to pursue questions he has about the courthouse.

Haridopolos also said he thought Fasano had told him there was no need of further hearings on the courthouse.

"I did not ask him to end the meetings at all," Haridopolos insisted.

Given that, Fasano said late Wednesday, "I can assure you, I'm definitely going to pursue it now."

Haridopolos said he did tell Fasano he needs to focus on a budget that is likely to face severe cuts as the state figures out how to chop more than $3.5 billion out of its current spending plan.

Haridopolos said then-Gov. Charlie Crist should have fired Department of Management Services Secretary Linda South last year after state auditors said the agency let the judges take control of courthouse construction. Haridopolos said he hopes the new secretary appointed by Gov. Rick Scott will keep out-of-control spending from ever happening again.

Senators clash on continuing courthouse scrutiny 01/26/11 [Last modified: Thursday, January 27, 2011 6:54am]
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