Wallace Pope, the prosecutor in the judicial misconduct probe against Judge Paul Hawkes, who helped bring about the lavish new headquarters for the 1st District Court of Appeals, has responded to Hawkes’ attempts to oust him from the case.

Lucy Morgan of the St. Petersburg Times, whose reporting has helped propel the scandal surrounding the “Taj Mahal” courthouse, explains Pope’s response here. Hawkes’ lawyer had contended that statements made by Pope while interviewing witnesses showed signs of bias.

Pope argues in his response that he was simply trying to develop rapport with the witnesses, to help them feel comfortable and more willing to open up, and that Hawkes’ lawyer ”mischaracterizes this technique as political bias and vindictiveness, without any support for those conclusory assertions.”

Here’s Pope on why those techniques were necessary:

As is often the case in seeking truth about those in positions of authority, the subpoenaed witnesses were conflicted. They were under an oath to tell the truth, but they were reluctant to say anything that might adversely affect their jobs, and some had fears of retaliation. For example,when one witness was asked whether he ever felt threatened in his dealings with Judge Hawkes, he testified:

Well, I think state employees are always on level of paranoid status, because you can fire us on whim, so, you know, we’re very aware of that whatever we say could be the last, you know, word, that triggers the removal. (Tr. at 27

A pattern emerged that when Judge Hawkes did not view person as an impediment to a goal of his, he would treat that person civilly and professionally. But if he viewed the person as an impediment, he was intimidating, coercive and retaliatory. It became clear that Judge Hawkes had treated some of these witnesses in that manner.

A hearing on Hawkes’ motions to dismiss the case and to disqualify Pope is set for July 15. Documents related to the case can be found here.

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