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Friday, September 30, 2011

A public flogging of a mendacious judge that's well-deserved -St. Pete Times editorial: Arrogant 'Taj Mahal' judge deserves no leniency



A public flogging of a mendacious judge that's well-deserved -St. Pete Times editorial: Arrogant 'Taj Mahal' judge deserves no leniency

Even in Florida, where so many aspects of basic public administration, logical checks-and-balances, separation of powers, transparency, public accountability and public records requests are actively fought by the elected officials and the judiciary -and their crony pals and lobbyists who made it all happen for them- eventually, the last shoe falls.

And this time, it's falling with a thud loud enough to be heard across the Sunshine State, in large part thanks to the tireless efforts of reporter Lucy Morgan of the St. Petersburg Times to connect-the-dots on a story that many others in Florida's news media avoided like a hot potato.

Yes, you mix powerful people with a sense of entitlement, old-fashioned notions of prestige, towering arrogance and abuse of the public's trust, and then throw taxpayers funding of it to solve the problem into the picture and you have a combustible end product that could explode before anything is built.

That's something to keep in mind now in Broward County, where judges, lawyers and the local legal and business establishment, plus their contractor friends and elected officials, all wanted a new County courthouse downtown despite the fact that the public does NOT.
So much so that the Broward County Commission refused to even allow the public to vote on the issue as a referendum.

Below is the editorial I had in an email I sent out yesterday to folks around the state, one that could hardly be more spot-on. Not that you would know about it at all based on how skant coverage this story has been on Miami-area TV newscasts.

It's the logical follow-up to my last post on this subject, from January 9th, titled, Florida CFO Jeff Atwater: 'Taj Mahal' courthouse in Tallahassee 'far worse' than a pricey building. And the judges behind it WON'T talk!
http://hallandalebeachblog.blogspot.com/2011/01/florida-cfo-jeff-atwater-taj-mahal.html, and my first one on the subject the month before on December 19th, titled, Lucy Morgan in St. Pete Times: Why can't anyone remember how a $50-million courthouse now called the 'Taj Mahal' stayed off the radar and got okayed?

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St. Petersburg Times
A Times Editorial
Arrogant 'Taj Mahal' judge deserves no leniency
In Print: Thursday, September 29, 2011

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.

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Google Street View of the 1st District Court of Appeal Courthouse at 2000 Drayton Drive, Tallahassee, Florida 32399.

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