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Yeah, but they still get to keep the 'Taj Mahal'

So now there are formal misconduct charges against Paul M. Hawkes, the main judge in the "Taj Mahal" courthouse scandal in Tallahassee.

This is partly satisfying, but mostly unsatisfying.

Partly satisfying, because unless everybody else in the world is lying, he deserves it.

Hawkes, who was put on the 1st District Court of Appeal by then-Gov. Jeb Bush, snookered the taxpayers out of a $50 million palace.

He sneaked it through with his buddies in the Legislature. He browbeat and bullied the state bureaucracy to get his way. He terrorized and threatened underlings. He blew money like it belonged to somebody else, which it did, of course.

The charging document from the state Judicial Qualifications Commission is darkly funny. It confirms that Hawkes hijacked the construction of the courthouse from state bureaucrats, and even had one removed who tried to object to the cost.

Obsessed with the trappings, Hawkes ordered surplus funds to buy new furniture for all 45 of the court's law clerks so it would match the "color palette" of the Taj.

The report charges Hawkes with trying to wheedle a free trip from a furniture vendor; of threatening the court's marshal and finally driving him to an early retirement; of improperly taking command of the court's budget and trying to doctor the numbers; of ordering court records destroyed; and of having a court clerk assist Hawkes' son, a lawyer, in preparing a brief in an appeals case.

The report even depicts Hawkes dipping into Joan Crawford craziness:

"On one occasion," the report says to Hawkes, "you demanded that the deputy marshal buy you a bottle of vinegar. The purpose was to clean your personal coffee pot. The deputy marshal refused, but you demanded that you be shown in writing why she could not buy you a bottle of vinegar. She showed you that she was not authorized to buy personal items for individuals. Even though she refused to buy you a bottle of vinegar, you continued to mention it to her and to harp on her refusal to buy you the vinegar."

Okaaaaaay.

Still, the charges are unsatisfying for several reasons, the most important being …

THEY GOT AWAY WITH IT.

They stole the money. They built the courthouse. The 1st District Court of Appeal rules there now, amid the mahogany and the granite. No matter what happens to Hawkes, the only real justice would be to kick that stinking court out of its ill-gotten palace.

The Legislature got away with it, too.

The Legislature did this, after all. The Legislature stuck the money into the state budget. The Legislature did it on the fly, on the sly, and stuck taxpayers with the debt. And everybody got re-elected or elected to new office. The Legislature has not lifted a finger to change the system that allowed this to happen.

Finally, the main moral is that Hawkes should never have been a judge in the first place. He was a Republican hanger-on, a former state House member and lawyer for that body. He was appointed to the appeals court by Jeb Bush under new rules passed by the Legislature that gave the governor more control over who got nominated.

As a smart guy once said, you reap what you sow. Hawkes is a symptom — an especially irritating symptom — but he is not the cause.

Yeah, but they still get to keep the 'Taj Mahal' 05/23/11 [Last modified: Monday, May 23, 2011 7:09pm]
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