A Times Editorial

'Taj Mahal' courthouse judge must go

The Judicial Qualifications Commission has unearthed more horrendous conduct by 1st District Court of Appeal Judge Paul M. Hawkes. Its report says he misled colleagues and ordered that public records be destroyed.

COLIN HACKLEY | Special to the Times

The Judicial Qualifications Commission has unearthed more horrendous conduct by 1st District Court of Appeal Judge Paul M. Hawkes. Its report says he misled colleagues and ordered that public records be destroyed.

The arrogance, bullying and duplicity of 1st District Court of Appeal Judge Paul M. Hawkes has been well documented. Now new charges from Florida's Judicial Qualifications Commission have uncovered even more evidence that Hawkes, a former political operative who orchestrated the building of the "Taj Mahal" courthouse in Tallahassee, is not fit to sit on the bench. From ordering the destruction of public records to requiring a court employee to provide legal help to his son, the JQC investigation and resulting charges reaffirm that Hawkes has no place in the judiciary.

It's been nine months since reporting by St. Petersburg Times Senior Correspondent Lucy Morgan first shined a spotlight on the ostentatious, $50 million courthouse that was under construction in south Tallahassee. Morgan's reporting over the next several months detailed how Hawkes and at least two other judges pressured the Legislature into appropriating the money, even as other state courts were forced to lay off staff. Morgan also recounted how Hawkes repeatedly bullied or misled state bureaucrats to ensure the building was grandiose, complete with private kitchens and bathrooms for judges.

Now a JQC investigation stemming from Morgan's work has revealed more details of Hawkes' horrendous conduct during his eight years on the bench. Its report recounts Hawkes' attempt to leverage a personal trip to Indiana for himself and one of his sons from a furniture vendor. When that was stopped by the chief judge, Hawkes took out his resentment on the vendor and the court's marshal and deputy marshal, who refused to cover it up.

The JQC found Hawkes become more emboldened once he was elected chief judge in 2009. Its report says he misled colleagues about the court's budget and directed the deputy marshal to destroy an entire file cabinet of documents that contained historical budget information, judicial correspondence and information about the new courthouse construction. Destroying public records is a crime, and Leon State Attorney Willie Meggs should investigate.

But equally offensive is the disregard Hawkes showed for judicial process — even as he sat as chief judge of the state's busiest appellate court. After the 1st District certified some questions in a 2005 case to the Florida Supreme Court, the JQC found Hawkes ordered his law clerk — a taxpayer-funded employee of the court – to assist Hawkes' son in preparing a brief for the appellant who was seeking to overturn an opinion authored by Hawkes' court.

The JQC's investigative panel summed up Hawkes' pattern of conduct with four adjectives, "intemperate, impatient, undignified and discourteous" and said he had "an inability to distinguish between the proper and improper use of the prestige of your judicial office." Hawkes has 20 days to respond to the charges, which his lawyer has indicated he plans to fight. He would be far better off if he resigned in hopes of maintaining his pension.

Some of Hawkes' colleagues are also unindicted co-conspirators in this stain on the judiciary, either by aiding him or staying quiet. And the Republican-led Legislature is also to blame. Hawkes was working for the House Policy Committee in 2001 when Gov. Jeb Bush and the Legislature turned the selection of judges from a nonpartisan process to a de facto patronage arrangement. Bush appointed Hawkes to the bench in December 2002, so the former governor's name should be chiseled into the palatial courthouse's walls along with the others responsible for the monstrosity.

'Taj Mahal' courthouse judge must go 05/18/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 18, 2011 8:59pm]

    

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