TALLAHASSEE -- The appellate judge who orchestrated the construction of the elaborate “Taj Mahal” courthouse was charged Tuesday with abusing his authority as a judge, destroying public records and conduct that demonstrates he is unfit to hold office.
The charges against 1st District Court of Appeal Judge Paul M. Hawkes were leveled by the Judicial Qualifications Commission after an investigation that focused on his push for a new $50 million courthouse in the midst of a budget crisis.
Hawkes’ conduct and behavior “demonstrated a pattern of conduct that can only be characterized as intemperate, impatient, undignified and discourteous,” the JQC alleged. That conduct has “brought the entire judiciary of the state of Florida into disrepute, has inflicted substantial harm upon the entire state court system and has therefore demeaned the entire court system of the state of Florida.”
In an 11-page notice filed Tuesday with the Florida Supreme Court, the commission centered its scathing accusations on Hawkes’ conduct toward others at the court and toward state officials involved in overseeing construction of the courthouse in Tallahassee, which was completed in December. Many have dubbed the lavish building a “Taj Mahal.”
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The accusations against Hawkes include:
Forcing the removal of a state employee who questioned the project and destroying documents related to the cost of the new courthouse as well as documents related to the selection of the architect and contractor.
Attempting to get a furniture vendor to provide a free trip to Indiana and Kentucky that would include a day at the Churchill Downs racetrack for himself, his brother and a son. Using a court employee in 2006 to help his son, Jeremiah, who was general counsel for House Speaker Marco Rubio, write a legal brief in an appeal of a lawsuit filed over legal fees charged by lawyers defending Death Row inmates. After Hawkes’ own court referred the case to the Supreme Court, the judge used his law clerk, Renee Hill, to help his son prepare a brief for the higher court. In September 2008 the Supreme Court overruled the Legislature.
Using a “coercive and intimidating leadership style” with the court’s marshal and others, and usurping the budget duties of several court employees.
Many of the charges involve questions raised by the St. Petersburg Times in articles published last year.
Hawkes, 54, a former Citrus County legislator appointed to the court by Gov. Jeb Bush in 2002, did not immediately respond to questions about the charges.
His lawyer, former U.S. Attorney Ken Sukhia, said: “Judge Hawkes was at all times acting in what he firmly believed to be the best interests of the state, the judiciary and the court on which he serves. We are preparing a vigorous defense against all charges.”
Sukhia said allegations that Hawkes destroyed records are not true. The records mentioned by the commission were just copies of old records, not the originals, which remain in the files.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles T. Canady forced Hawkes to resign as chief judge in November after state auditors questioned the legality of the way he and other judges at the 1st DCA handled the new courthouse. The building has many posh features, including miles of African mahogany, granite countertops and desktops, and bathrooms and kitchens for each of the court’s 15 judges.
Sen. Mike Fasano, R-Port Richey, said Hawkes should immediately resign. Fasano chairs the Florida Senate committee that controls the court system’s budget. Earlier this year, he summoned Hawkes and Judge Brad Thomas, another 1st DCA judge who helped lobby for the new building, to testify before his committee. Afterward, Fasano accused both judges of being less than candid.
“The harm Judge Paul Hawkes has brought to the court is enormous,” Fasano said. “The longer Judge Hawkes sits on the court, the longer it will take for the court to earn back the public’s trust.”
When officials with Department of Management Services, the agency charged with supervising the courthouse construction project, suggested the project was exceeding the budget, Hawkes “brushed them off,” saying he would simply return to the Legislature and obtain more money.
Hawkes took over the budget-making process after Brannon resigned and misled his fellow judges about financial decisions with attempts to “doctor the budget by omitting information from it,” the commission charged.
After Brannon retired, Hawkes forced a deputy marshal to destroy an entire file cabinet filled with budget documents and information pertaining to the construction of the new courthouse, the charges state.
Hawkes has 20 days to respond to the accusations, and is likely to face trial before the commission later this year. The commission will make a written recommendation to the Supreme Court that could lead to a reprimand, fine, suspension or removal from office.