In the end, even a judge as ambitious and arrogant as Paul Hawkes could not save himself. The 1st District Court of Appeal judge is resigning rather than face an ethics trial before the Judicial Qualifications Commission for his abuses in masterminding the construction of a $50 million courthouse. The commission deserves credit for resisting any attempts by Hawkes to cut a better deal and for insisting that he no longer sit in the lavish building he relentlessly pursued without regard to cost or ethics.
Hawkes has sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott indicating he will leave the appellate court in January. That should not be the final word. The JQC also should demand that Hawkes agree to never sit as a judge again in any Florida court. He should never dispense justice as a senior judge, as retired judges often do when there is a need for help. He should never seek election to a trial court. And he should never accept another appointment to the bench. Hawkes left a permanent stain on the judicial branch, and he does not deserve a second chance.
The appellate courthouse on the outskirts of Tallahassee is a monument to judicial arrogance. St. Petersburg Times senior correspondent Lucy Morgan reported how Hawkes abused his office to quietly persuade the Legislature to borrow money, intimidated state employees involved in the construction, sought a trip from a furniture vendor and ordered the destruction of public documents. Hawkes initially refused a request by Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady that he resign as chief judge, and a JQC investigative panel charged him with conduct unbecoming a judge and described him as unfit. This is the risk of treating judicial appointments as patronage jobs, as former Gov. Jeb Bush did when he appointed Hawkes to the bench for his political connections rather than his legal acumen.
As Hawkes attempted to defend the indefensible, he first claimed that the appellate judges were jointly responsible for the new courthouse when public records show that is not the case. When that didn't work, he berated F. Wallace Pope Jr., the Clearwater lawyer ably prosecuting his case before the JQC. When he couldn't spread the blame, intimidate Pope or persuade the JQC to dismiss the charges, Hawkes had no one else left to bully. The only way to avoid more ridicule in a public trial was to resign from the appellate court.
The 1st District Court of Appeal will be better off. Now the JQC should insist that Hawkes never have an opportunity to wear judicial robes again in any court.