JQC panel hears Judge Hawkes on Taj Mahal role

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Appellate Judge Paul Hawkes will have to wait at least another week to learn if charges against him for his conduct as the alleged mastermind of a new courthouse in Tallahassee will be dropped.

Judicial Qualifications Commission hearing chairman Paul Backman, a circuit judge in Broward County, did not rule after two-and-a-half hours of legal wrangling Friday. Backman said he expects to have a decision within a week.

The commission could recommend that the Supreme Court, which has the final say, take disciplinary action. If the justices find Hawkes violated judicial canons the penalty can range from no action to removal from office.

Hawkes' attorney, Ken Sukhia, asked the JQC panel Friday to remove the special counsel in the case on grounds of extrajudicial prejudice and political bias against Hawkes.

JQC special counsel F. Wallace Pope Jr. of Clearwater participated by phone while Sukhia and Hawkes were among those in the hearing chairman's Fort Lauderdale chambers.

The allegations against Hawkes include impairing public confidence in the courts, and acting in an undignified and discourteous manner in regard to the courthouse project.

"A judge must act at all times in a matter that promotes public confidence," Pope told the hearing panel, adding that Hawkes' role in burnishing the $48.8 million judicial edifice appeared "coercive" to some.

The complaint by the commission's investigative panel included allegations that Hawkes verbally beat up on state employees working on the project, had its manager removed after the manager questioned the building's cost and took actions that were contrary to legislative intent.

Hawkes and Judge Bradford Thomas offered qualified apologies to the Florida Senate's Budget Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations in January for expenditures made during construction that exceeded legislative intent.

The massive building — topped off by an ornate dome and dubbed the "epitome of arrogance" by state Sen. Mike Fasano — is replete with stately columns inside and out, etched glass windows, individual soundproof bathrooms and kitchens for each of the 15 judges, granite counter and desk tops and miles of African mahogany trim.

Other charges against Hawkes are unrelated to the towering new court building: that while serving as the court's chief judge he misled his colleagues about budgetary matters and tried to get the court's deputy marshal to doctor the budget by omitting information.

Hawkes resigned last year as the 1st District's chief judge at the request of current Chief Justice Charles Canady.

Supreme Court Justice R. Fred Lewis says he tried without success to get Gov. Charlie Crist to veto the project in 2007, when Lewis — then the chief justice — learned of a "behind-the-scenes" deal between the appeal judges and some lawmakers.

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