“While I assume all of the factual representations made are accurate, I have no independent knowledge as to most of them. I’m most disturbed that this letter is apparently going out as a product of the entire court,” Webster wrote to Hawkes. #

Some highlights from Hawkes’ letter: #

  • The courthouse project was not the result of a “backroom deal,” but was the result of an approval process that spanned from 2005 to 2008, and included at least one public committee meeting. Hawkes acknowledges that the bulk of the funding, some $33.5 million in bonds, was approved on the morning of the last day of the 2007 legislative session as a last-minute amendment to a transportation bill, but notes that the decision to bond the construction of the building had been made earlier in the year and as such should not have been a surprise.
  • The granite countertops were selected for their long-term durability and low maintenance costs, and the televisions are actually monitored for the viewing of court procedures and documents. No cable/satellite connections are included in the construction plans.
  • The project has been followed closely by both House and Senate staff, as well as two governors. The cabinet was also required to approve bond measures. No concerns were ever raised.
  • Costs exceeded initial estimates because of recent requirements by the legislature that the building meets LEED certification and possesses state-of-the-art security. The completed courthouse will become one of nine Gold-certified “green” buildings in the state.
  • The St. Petersburg Times argues that the courthouse was both heavily lobbied for by a number of judges, as well as pushed through at the last minute. Both cannot be true.

In a recent Florida Bar poll, Hawkes received the lowest rating ever given an appellate court judge up for merit retention: #

Hawkes, who headed the construction of a palatial new courthouse dubbed the “Taj Mahal” or “Taj MaHawkes,” should not be retained in office, according to 53 percent of lawyers with “considerable knowledge” of him, according to the poll released Friday. #

Hawkes was appointed to the court in 2003 by then Gov. Jeb Bush. #

Judge Paul Hawkes “Taj Mahal” Courthouse Letter #

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