Judge Paul Hawkes still doesn't get it. The chief judge of the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee says he is "surprised and discouraged'' by the firestorm over the $48 million "Taj Mahal'' courthouse and denies he did anything wrong as the driving force behind it. His defense of the indefensible reinforces why voters in North Florida should vote against his retention and remove him from the bench.
The courthouse controversy has generated outrage from voters, legislators and other judges. An audit by Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink's office details how Hawkes and other appellate judges bullied the state agency overseeing the project. The Judicial Qualifications Commission is investigating. Yet all of this remains a mystery to the chief judge, who offered his most extensive public comments this week to editors at the Tallahassee Democrat.
Did Hawkes go overboard lobbying the Legislature for the courthouse money?
Never mind that Hawkes, a former Republican lawmaker and legislative staffer, helped persuade lawmakers to sneak through the ability to borrow $35 million for the project on the last day of the 2007 legislative session. Or that he and another judge lobbied for another $5.5 million in 2008 to pay for an even bigger building.
What about the ostentatious design of the building?
"The design of the building is consistent with the legislative intent.''
Never mind that so many legislators expressed surprise at the cost and expensive furnishings, such as 20 miles of African mahogany.
"A lot of it is veneer,'' the judge said.
And the granite counters?
"I would certainly do granite again … we slide a lot of files back and forth.''
Hawkes told the newspaper editors he is confident no laws were broken. He tossed aside a question about flying to Michigan at the contractor's expense to tour the Michigan Supreme Court — which is the model for the new courthouse. In fact, he remains quite proud of the monument to self-importance.
"Clearly, we could do everything we do in an old abandoned Albertson's,'' the judge said, "and I'm not sure that's in the best interest of the people of the state of Florida.''
What's clearly not in the best interest of Floridians is to keep on the bench an arrogant appellate judge who pressures the legislative branch of government, bullies the executive branch and possesses such a colossal sense of personal entitlement.