The Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission has charged 1st District Court Judge Paul Hawkes with abusing his position as he lobbied for the courthouse that became known as the “Taj Mahal.”
The allegations in the notice released today range from usurping oversight of the court’s budget to ordering court employees to buy vinegar to clean his personal coffee machine. They suggest Hawkes “demonstrated a pattern of conduct that can only be characterized as intemperate, impatient, undignified and discourteous” and that his conduct “has inflicted substantial harm upon the entire state court system.”
Hawkes has 20 days to respond to the allegations, which, if proven true, could cause him to be removed from office or face fines and other sanctions.
Here are five highlights, as described in the notice:
1. Some employees of the Department of Management Services, which was overseeing construction of the courthouse, said they felt as if Hawkes (whom the notice refers to in second person) was “beating up” on them.
For example, when the project director raised legitimate financial concerns about the project and the appearance of the building, you went over his head to the Secretary of the Department and had him removed from the project. When DMS personnel raised budgetary concerns with you, you brushed them off with statements that you would simply return to the Florida Legislature and obtain more money.
2. Hawkes allegedly tried to get a free trip to Indiana, courtesy of a company that had just sold the court thousands of dollars worth of new furniture. The chief judge at the time nixed his travel plans, and Hawkes allegedly “tried to intimidate” court marshal Don Brannon (who helped oversee budget matters) to change his version of events surrounding the planned trip during a closed-door meeting. Hawkes told other court employees “that no such trip was ever under consideration.” The fallout from that incident and Hawkes’s “coercive and intimidating” manner eventually prompted Brannon to resign.
3. Quoting from the notice:
On one occasion you demanded that the deputy marshal buy you a bottle of vinegar. The purpose was to clean your 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. She showed you that she was not authorized to purchase personal items for individuals. Even though she refused to buy you a bottle of vinegar, you continued to mention it to her and to harp on her refusal to buy you the vinegar.
4. Hawkes also used the window between Brannon’s departure and the arrival of the new marshall to order the destruction of “an entire file cabinet of documents” Brannon had kept, which included budget documents and “information about the construction of the new courthouse,” including:
• Legislative budget requests (LBRs).
• Documents concerning the air conditioning system in the old building. The contractor had promised that the new system would actually pay for itself in electrical savings. The project was coordinated with the Comptroller’s Office. The contractor had to make regular reports about savings to the court.
• The Marshal’s correspondence with the First DCA judges and with the Florida Supreme Court.
• Information regarding the construction of the new courthouse, with particular reference to the selection process for the architect and the contractor.
• Documents regarding the new courthouse building committee that the Marshal felt should be retained.
The deputy marshal resisted the destruction of these files, but you insisted, overruled her, and the files were destroyed. You therefore directed the destruction of public records, which included documents relevant to this investigation and other investigations related to the construction of the new courthouse.
5. Hawkes allegedly ordered his law clerk, ”a taxpayer-paid employee of the First District Court of Appeal,” to help his son prepare a legal brief for a case the 1st DCA had ruled on, which had been appealed to the state Supreme Court. From the complaint:
Your use of your law clerk in this fashion was a misuse of a state asset for the benefit of your son, and it was completely improper for you to assign your law clerk, who was on the court at the time your court certified the case to the Florida Supreme Court, to assist one of the parties in preparing a partisan brief in the Florida Supreme Court on a case that sought to overturn an opinion authored by your court.