Florida Supreme Court Dismisses Ethics Case Against Judge Hawkes

By: Michael Peltier and Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida; AP
By: Michael Peltier and Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida; AP

High court drops case against "Taj Mahal" judge

Tallahassee, FL (AP) - The Florida Supreme Court has approved the state judicial ethics panel's dismissal of its case against a Tallahassee-based judge for his involvement in an expensive new courthouse.

The court ruled Tuesday that an ethics case was moot since Judge Paul M. Hawkes of the 1st District Court of Appeal resigned as of Jan. 4.

But the Supreme Court's order said that it would have "continuing jurisdiction" if Hawkes ever retakes judicial office.

He was set for a final hearing over ethics charges stemming from his efforts to get funding for the nearly $49 million courthouse built in south Tallahassee. It is so ornate that critics immediately dubbed it the "Taj Mahal."

Hawkes was once chief judge of the appellate court.


UPDATE 1-17-2012 --

The Florida Supreme Court has formally dismissed the ethics case against former Judge Paul M. Hawkes .

Copy of Order Dismissal is attached.


Tallahassee Taj Mahal Judge Will Resign

Tallahassee, Florida - November 17, 2011 -

Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida

Embattled First District Court of Appeal Judge Paul Hawkes is resigning, ending one chapter of an embarrassing saga over the court's lavish new headquarters and short-circuiting an inquiry into Hawkes' role in the controversy.

"The opportunity to serve the people of Florida over the last nine years as a judge on this court has been a great honor," Hawkes wrote to Gov. Rick Scott in a resignation letter, which made no mention of the investigation.

Hawkes' decision to step aside on Jan. 4 essentially shuts down the Judicial Qualifications Commission hearing that was scheduled to begin Jan. 30. That case had drawn attention for the sharply critical legal briefings filed by both sides, which had included quotes from former Gov. Jeb Bush, Alice in Wonderland and Shakespeare to highlight their points.

The crux of the dispute, though, was Hawkes role in the construction of his court's lavish new building on the outskirts of Tallahassee and what Special Counsel Wallace Pope characterized as Hawkes' browbeating and demeaning style of leadership.

News reports on the facility, which began in August 2010, sparked a political firestorm that reached into that fall's campaign.

But Pope's 11-page "notice of formal charges" in May surprised even some of Hawkes' sharpest critics with broader accusations than the attention-grabbing headlines about the ornate courthouse.

The report painted Hawkes as an overbearing taskmaster in pushing for the construction of the courthouse, said he ordered his clerk to help Hawkes' son prepare a brief appealing a ruling by the 1st DCA and pressured a furniture manufacturer to pay for a trip to Indiana for Hawkes and his son.

Pope also accused Hawkes of ordering the destruction of a filing cabinet filled with documents related to the selection process for the architect and contractors for the court.

In one of the more bizarre episodes recounted in the report, Hawkes reportedly ordered the court's deputy marshal to buy him vinegar so he could clean his personal coffee pot.

"The deputy marshal refused, but you demanded that you be shown in writing why she could not buy you a bottle of vinegar," the report says.

Hawkes' politically-connected lawyer, Kenneth Sukhia, responded in a flurry of motions that Pope was biased against Hawkes -- a Bush appointee -- because of political disagreements.

Sukhia said Pope overblew the charges, was living in a "fantasy world," resembled the Red Queen in Alice of Wonderland and had been labeled "a whack job" by Bush.

Pope shot back with a series of dismissive briefs that included the observation that he "was not retained to be Judge Hawkes' friend." Pope did not return a message left at his office Wednesday seeking comment on Hawkes' decision to step down.

Sen. Mike Fasano, a New Port Richey Republican who was one of the Hawkes' sharpest critics, said the judge should have stepped aside months ago.

"His resignation is appropriate," Fasano said Wednesday. "It's needed. However, it should have come sooner than later. ... He, by resigning, does limit any more embarrassments of the judicial system."

But by closing down the JQC investigation, the resignation could also obscure details of how the new First DCA building turned into what critics have labeled the "Taj Mahal" courthouse -- which drew outrage not only for its ostentatious form, but for the fact that it was built in austere times across state government.

"The taxpayers, the citizens of Florida, will never get many questions answered, unfortunately," Fasano said.


Tallahassee, Florida - November 16, 2011 -

A Tallahassee appeals judge embroiled in a controversy over an expensive new courthouse is resigning from his post.

Judge Paul Hawkes of the 1st District Court of Appeal on Nov. 9
officially submitted a letter of resignation to Gov. Rick Scott. In
his letter Hawkes says he plans to resign on Jan. 4.

Hawkes, who was once the chief judge for the appeals court, was
scheduled to face ethics charges in late January over his efforts
to obtain funding for the $48.8 million courthouse that opened late
last year in Tallahassee.

The massive building is replete with stately columns inside and
out, an ornate dome and etched glass windows. It also has
individual bathrooms and kitchens for each of the 15 judges.


Tallahassee, Florida - October 14, 2011 -

1st District Court of Appeal Judge Paul Hawkes is accused in a Judicial Qualifications case of inappropriate conduct in the effort to get a new courthouse built, dubbed the Tallahassee Taj Mahal, in Tallahassee.

The complete witness list can be found above in PDF format, titled

Hawkes is accused of conduct unbecoming a judge in connection
with lobbying for state money to build a $50-million courthouse
many Floridians have dubbed a "Taj Mahal."

The trial is currently scheduled for Oct. 31.


Tallahassee, Florida - September 23, 2011 -

Both parties in the case involving the behavior of 1st District Court of Appeal Judge Paul Hawkes in connection with the construction of the new 1st DCA building are asking for a delay in the case, which is currently scheduled for an Oct. 31 trial. Both parties asked the Supreme Court on Thursday for the delay, saying they're trying to resolve it without a trial. Also, one of Hawkes lawyers is getting married in November and honeymooning in December, and would rather have a trial, if there is one, early next year, the joint motion said. Hawkes is accused in a Judicial Qualifications case of inappropriate conduct in the effort to get the new courthouse built.


Tallahassee, Florida - August 3, 2011 -

A final hearing date has been set in the Florida JQC ethics investigation into Judge Paul Hawkes, according to Florida Supreme Court documents:

Notice is hereby given that the final hearing of this matter shall take place in Leon County, commencing October 31, 2011 at 9:00 a.m. The hearing is anticipated to last one week. The exact location shall be set forth at another time.

To read the entire order scheduling the final hearing, click on the PDF above.



Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida:

A complaint filed against First District Court of Appeal Judge Paul Hawkes over his role in the courts new headquarters will proceed, the Judicial Qualifications Commission ruled Friday, refusing to dismiss the complaint or disqualify the special counsel involved in the case.

Instead, JQC hearing panel chairman, Circuit Judge Paul Backman, set a schedule that has the parties completing discovery by the end of October. Backman rejected a contention by Hawkes that he is being unfairly singled out by an overzealous special counsel with partisan motives.

Judge Hawkes can establish no prejudice at all, Backman wrote in a 15-page ruling that shot down most of Hawkes requests.

Backman denied Hawkes petition to dismiss the charges against him, while also refusing to disqualify special counsel Wallace Pope, who Hawkes has criticized for sharp remarks made in the formal complaint over the appellate judges role in building the court building.

The chair has considered the judges remaining arguments, including that special counsel may have made disparaging or partisan statements, Backman wrote. These may provide fodder for cross-examination, but do not warrant disqualification or dismissal of formal charges.

On July 15, lawyers scuffled over a series of motions filed by Hawkes' defense team, led by Tallahassee attorney Ken Sukhia. The parties have been battling since May following a report from the Judicial Qualifications Commission's investigative arm charged the judge with badgering state employees and destroying documents during the construction of the court's ornate new headquarters on the outskirts of Tallahassee.Throughout the hearing, Hawkes' attorneys have repeatedly alleged that Pope's partisan disdain for former Gov. Jeb Bush and his appointees to the courts were the motivation for a case meant to drive Hawkes from the bench.

Hawkes has also said everyone was on board with the decision to build the court complex, which has since been criticized for its opulence at a time when lawmakers are scrambling to makes ends meet.

Backman gave Hawkes until Aug. 4 to answer the formal charges in connection with several allegations made by Pope. Further, Blackman gave parties until Oct. 20 to complete discovery.

Hawkes attorney declined to comment on the decision.


Tallahassee, FL (AP) -

Charges will move forward against
Appellate Judge Paul Hawkes for his conduct as the alleged
mastermind of a new courthouse in Tallahassee.

The Judicial Qualifications Commission refused to dismiss
charges Friday.

The chairman of the panel hearing the case against Hawkes
rejected multiple efforts to derail the charges. A request by
Hawkes to remove a prosecutor because alleged political bias
against Hawkes was also rejected.

Hawkes is accused of conduct unbecoming a judge in connection
with lobbying for state money to build a $50-million courthouse
many Floridians have dubbed a "Taj Mahal."

The JQC could recommend that the Supreme Court, which has the
final say, take disciplinary action.

Hawkes has claimed that the courthouse project was pursued by
all of the court's judges.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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  • by Fed up Location: Tlh on Jan 18, 2012 at 02:37 PM
    For all the voters that don't know, on the next election ballot, there is a place to vote to retain or dump each one, and you need to vote to dump each one, state wide, and make it 100% to dump them all. That would send a clear message, dummies, remember this, when you take your slip of paper with you on how and who to vote for. Everyone needs a competency test along with the picture id.
  • by God Bless America on Jan 18, 2012 at 05:51 AM
    Well what did you expect...Judges will not convict their own kind.
  • by GoodDecision Location: Tally on Jan 18, 2012 at 05:24 AM
    This was the right decision as this political vendetta should have never made it this far. It is embarrassing to see all the misinformed citizens on the witchhunt bandwagon. Judge Hawkes should receive an award for his hard work. Thank-you Judge Hawkes!
  • by laughable on Jan 18, 2012 at 03:54 AM
    What a joke. The good ole buddy system at work. Friends helping friends.
  • by how did i not see this comeing Location: tally on Jan 17, 2012 at 09:35 PM
    this is mafia at it's best.
    • reply
      by God Bless America on Jan 18, 2012 at 05:52 AM in reply to how did i not see this comeing
      Please don't imsult the MAFIA...
  • by say what?? on Jan 17, 2012 at 09:16 PM
    He deserves jail time. His buddies let him go.
  • by Tom Location: TLH on Jan 17, 2012 at 06:41 PM
    Wonder who's buying all the new toys for the justices as a result of this bogus ruling.
  • by Mark on Jan 17, 2012 at 03:46 PM
    Once again they take care of their own. How disgusting. Reminds me of law enforcement.
  • by Tom Location: TLH on Nov 17, 2011 at 04:03 PM
    "The opportunity to serve the people of Florida over the last nine years as a judge on this court has been a great honor." Jeez, I bet it has! We "honored" this crook with a fat paycheck. Plus, he'll get a nice retainer from the contractor, I'll bet.
  • by Anonymous on Nov 17, 2011 at 11:15 AM
    Vote no on all the 1st DCA judges. All of them were involved in this.
    • reply
      by Anon on Jan 18, 2012 at 08:19 AM in reply to
      While you're at it, why don't you vote out the legislators that approved the money to pay for it. The courts don't control their own pursestrings, the Legislature does.
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