In a filing Tuesday, a lawyer for Judge Paul Hawkes sought to dismiss the prosecutor in a judicial misconduct probe connected to the now-infamous “Taj Mahal” courthouse, saying the charges in the case have been tainted by “political animosity and personal vitriol.”
As special counsel for the state’s Judicial Qualifications Commission, F. Wallace Pope Jr. is tasked with gathering evidence in the case. Hawkes was charged last month for allegedly abusing his authority as he lobbied for a lavish new headquarters for the 1st District Court of Appeals in Tallahassee.
Pointing to transcripts in which Pope refers to Jeb Bush’s judicial appointees as “stooges,” Hawkes’ lawyer Ken Sukhia contends that Pope harbors a “bias” that has “tainted this entire proceeding” and suggests the case is being driven by politics.
Sukhia points an exchange between Pope and former Marshal Don Brannon as evidence that he has an ax to grind against Hawkes and Bush, who appointed him:
Brannon: And to see where it went to when judges like this from political appointments who were definitely not the most qualified are now appellate judges of our court of our state.
Brannon: It’s a sad state of affairs.
Pope: It is a sad state of affairs.
Brannon: It is. It is.
Pope: I will agree with you. I think that’s unfortunately one of the gifts that Jeb Bush gave us.
Brannon: Jeb Bush. Amen.
Pope: Because he hated courts and he hated judges and he hated lawyers.
Brannon: I know. Some people had the opinion that was his way of putting the court down –
Pope: Oh, it was.
Brannon: –is put bad judges on it.
Pope: Put your stooges on there.
Brannon: We got our share over there, we did. It’s sad.
Hawkes’s filing contends that this conversation and other transcripts included with it filing convey a belief that Hawkes “has dug his own grave and is entitled to no respect from the judicial enforcers,” and points to a comment in which Pope said “the Rules of Judicial Conduct are ‘vague as hell’ and that ‘you could plug almost any kind of conduct in it, depending on your view.’”
“They convey an alarming view that would permit the JQC and its Special Counsel to discipline at a whim based on political motivation,” Hawkes’ filing agues.
Allegations in the case range from destroying public records and mistreating court employees to using court resources to help Hawkes’ son, a lawyer, prepare legal briefs in a case that had been heard by the court. Sukhia argues in Tuesday’s filing that two of the major allegations in the case — the destruction of public records and the use of court resources to help his son — ignored evidence that could exonerate Hawkes.
Last week, Hawkes’ lawyers contended in a motion to dismiss the charges that he has become a “scapegoat” for a project that became “a symbol of government abuse and waste” for politicians and the media and politicians after a series of investigative articles by the St. Petersburg Times raised questions about the court’s lobbying effort in support of the project. The court’s building committee had acted as a group, the filing contended, so it was unfair to single out Hawkes.
“The project, which had not been controversial in the least, had now become part of the media and political firestorm,” Sukhia wrote in that motion. ”Judge Hawkes, whose actions had received accolades and praise for his efforts from his Chief Judges, his colleagues, and the Legislature, was now excoriated for those same efforts.”
In a response, also filed Tuesday, Pope argues that Hawkes was attempting to argue the facts of the case in a procedural motion and that he could make his case during a hearing:
A basic tenet running throughout the common law, something that every law student learns on the first day of civil procedure class, is that factual disputes are not decided on motions to dismiss, or even on motions for summary judgment. Such disputes may be resolved only by the presentation of evidence to the JQC Hearing Panel, where Judge Hawkes will have the opportunity to present his own evidence and he will be afforded an opportunity for cross examination of all JQC witnesses by his able counsel. Furthermore, the JQC has already identified all witnesses it now intends to call against Judge Hawkes and has provided to Judge Hawkes copies of all statements of witnesses from whom statements were taken.
Documents related to the case can be found here. The commission will advise the Supreme Court on what disciplinary action if any, it should take against Hawkes.