On May 17, 2011, formal ethics charges were filed against First DCA Judge Paul M. Hawkes for his involvement in the construction of the First DCA’s new courthouse in Tallahassee. The Notice of Formal Charges filed by the Judicial Qualifications Commission can be viewed on the Florida Supreme Court’s website. Attorneys, both criminal and non-criminal, are aware that many courthouses around the State are suffering from a lack of funding. For example, the Fourth DCA in West Palm Beach is closing the doors of its law library on July 1, 2011, and for the last several years, the Broward County Courthouse has been suffering from repeated instances of flooding.
However, despite such tough economic times, the First DCA managed to construct what has been called the “Taj Mahal” of courthouses. An October 2010 audit of the new courthouse revealed that unnamed Judges at the First DCA took control of the construction process, and added millions onto the budget with custom fixtures, etched glass, African mahogany, and granite. According to the audit, the cost for the new courthouse was initially budgeted at $31 million. By the time all the extras were added, the cost was increased to $48 million.
According to the Notice of Formal Charges, Judge Hawkes allegedly (1) bullied several individuals involved with the construction of the courthouse; (2) persuaded the other members of the Court to spend budgetary surplus on the purchase of 45 new desks for law clerks just so the desks would match the rest of the “color palette” in the courthouse; (3) tried to coerce the Court Marshal to change his account about a trip that Judge Hawkes was reportedly planning to the site of one of the courthouse furniture manufacturers; (4) took over the budgeting functions of the Court Marshal’s office, and manipulated the Court’s budget; (5) misled the other Judges on the Court as to what he was doing with the budget; and, (6) forced the Deputy Marshal to destroy a cabinet full of public documents relating to the courthouse construction. In a charge unrelated to the new courthouse, Judge Hawkes allegedly directed one of his own lawclerks to work on a case that was being handled by his son before the Florida Supreme Court.
Although Judge Hawkes has yet to file a formal response to the charges, a Response and Objection filed by the JQC today shows that Judge Hawkes has requested the JQC to provide information relating to the charges. It will be interesting to see how this turns out!