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A Times Editorial

Arrogant 'Taj Mahal' judge deserves no leniency

Paul Hawkes is the arrogant, duplicitous judge on Florida's 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee who put construction of a lavish $50 million courthouse for himself and his fellow judges before judicial ethics or integrity. Now, as he answers for his actions before Florida's Judicial Qualifications Commission, Hawkes should forfeit his job. Any sanction short of Hawkes' removal from the bench would be too lenient in light of the stain he has left on the judiciary.

The formal charges brought in May against Hawkes by a JQC investigative panel describe a man whose ambition has run amok. Allegations include that he blatantly abused his authority to secure money and amenities for the new building, bullied state employees, ordered the destruction of an entire file cabinet of public documents, suggested a furniture vendor underwrite a trip, and even directed a court employee to help his son with legal work.

Concerns over Hawkes' conduct came to light through reporting by St. Petersburg Times senior correspondent Lucy Morgan, who first detailed the outsized role Hawkes played in getting the posh courthouse built even as the grip of a tightening recession meant courts around the state were losing personnel.

It would be a violation of public trust if Hawkes were able to keep his job through a negotiated settlement. Secret negotiations to avoid a trial are under way between lawyers for the JQC and Hawkes. One proposed settlement has already been rejected by the JQC panel, suggesting that Hawkes is looking to get off too easily. If there is no agreement, a trial is likely to begin early next year.

But Hawkes deserves no leniency in return for expediency. He refuses to acknowledge wrongdoing and deflects blame. First, Hawkes provided inaccurate accounts of his actions when testifying in January before a Senate committee. Then, in his formal response to the charges, he pointed a finger of complicity at his fellow appellate court judges, as if they were as much to blame for the ostentatious courthouse. These are not the actions of someone repentant or reformed.

Ultimately the sanctions Hawkes faces will be determined by the Florida Supreme Court, which will review any JQC recommendation but has the final word. Chief Justice Charles Canady, unhappy with Hawkes' conduct and its poor reflection on the judiciary, told Hawkes to resign as chief judge. That same impulse, to protect the integrity of the courts, should inform any settlement deal and require Hawkes' removal from the bench.

Arrogant 'Taj Mahal' judge deserves no leniency 09/28/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 28, 2011 4:57pm]
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