Judge Judith Hawkins / Mike Ewen/Democrat files
To view the case filings go to: http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/pub_info/summaries/briefs/12/12-2495/index.html
Leon County Judge Judith Hawkins is asking the state’s Judicial Qualifications Commission to dismiss a misconduct charge that she used her position to advance a side ministry business.
In a notice filed Dec. 5 with the Florida Supreme Court, the JQC said Hawkins sold study guides at the courthouse and used her office space, equipment and staff to work on the for-profit business Gaza Road Ministries. The commission alleged she took time away from her judicial duties to promote the business “to the detriment of the prompt and efficient administration of justice.”
But in a response filed Wednesday, Hawkins’ Coral Gables-based attorney said the judge did not intend to use her position to advance the ministry business, which earned $13,518 in 2011, and her duties as a judge were not compromised.
“At no time was it (Hawkins’) intention for her excitement and sharing of her book with others to be misconstrued as using her position to promote a private interest,” the response by attorney Gerald Kogan said. “Rather, (her) intention was only to share her writings, which come from the heart, in the spirit of hope that readers would gather strength, find encouragement, gain insight and healing.”
The commission, however, said it was inappropriate for Hawkins to appear on the company’s website in her judicial robes and to try to sell her publications to attorneys who appear before her and “even in the courtroom in which you preside.”
“There is a disparity in authority between your position and those to whom you have sold within the courthouse,” the commission charge said.
Under judicial ethics rules, a judge can’t “lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others.” Judges found guilty of judicial misconduct can face penalties from fines and reprimand to suspension or removal from office.
Hawkins, first elected in 1996, was the first African-American elected in a contested race in the 2nd Judicial Circuit and the first African-American female judge in the circuit.
Hawkins’ response said she wrote the book in the first half of 2008 during “pre-dawn and non-office hours,” and her judicial assistant did not work on Gaza Road Ministries publications during court-business hours. Selling the book at the courthouse did not take advantage of “any disparity in authority,” but rather, after 15 years there, she had developed friendships with court personnel.
Also, the response said, photographs on the business website of Hawkins in judicial robes were not intended to bolster her prestige to aid sales, but simply stated her biography and commitment to community service.
“At no time has participation in Gaza Road Ministries been to the ‘detriment of the prompt and efficient administration of justice,’ ” the response stated.”(Hawkins) consistently managed her full judicial responsibilities, without disruption, while maintaining Gaza Road Ministries engagements.”
Hawkins’ response noted she once left her mother’s hospital bedside to sign a warrant.
Further, the response said Hawkins was not aware her First Amendment rights would be limited by her involvement with the business or that a judge was prohibited from creating a for-profit enterprise or ministry.
“Gaza Road Ministries has enhanced and improved (Hawkins’) judicial performance,” the response stated. “(Hawkins) believes she is better equipped to apply the law with greater fairness and justice.”
The case will go to a six-member panel of the JQC, which will preside over a public hearing before going into closed session to determine whether a violation occurred and, if so, what the punishment should be.
If wrongdoing is found, a recommendation would go on to the Florida Supreme Court for final action.