Written by Alan R. Dakan | My View
County judges traditionally have very heavy caseloads that take up almost all of their time. If they occasionally find they have a free moment, they use it to care for the vast backlog of administrative responsibilities that crop up, or they assist other judges with their workloads. But most of a county court judge’s time is — or certainly ought to be — spent on the bench or in the hearing room dealing with the tremendous number of cases that any county court judge normally must handle.
In many counties, and perhaps here in Leon County as well, judges set their own schedules to a great extent. I suppose a judge could establish a light schedule that would provide an abundance of free time in order to pursue outside interests. Certainly no conscientious judge would do that.
Of course in this case it will be up to the Judicial Qualifications Commission, and, ultimately, the Florida Supreme Court, to determine if Judge Hawkins abused her scheduling privileges to benefit her personal, for-profit business. Incidentally, she is also charged with violating the provision of the Code of Judicial Conduct that says, “A judge shall dispose of all judicial matters promptly, efficiently and fairly.”
It is particularly disturbing to me that Judge Hawkins is accused of using her position as a judge to promote a for-profit business. The commission’s complaint states that she sold or attempted to sell books, study guides and publications at the courthouse and even in her courtroom.
The Code of Judicial Conduct is very clear that the type of conduct charged here is absolutely prohibited. Judges simply cannot use their judicial positions to advance private interests of any kind at all, much less for a personal, for-profit business.
I would find it very hard to believe that Judge Hawkins would have been unaware that her conduct, if true, violated the Code of Judicial Conduct that binds all judges. When she became a judge she would have attended a school for new judges. There, she would have learned about the rules of ethical conduct in detail. Further, all judges are responsible for a certain amount of continuing education, which includes ethics training.
All judges know that you cannot use your judicial position to run a business. All judges know that you cannot use government employees, such as your judicial assistant, or government property for your own personal purposes. And, most important, all judges know that you cannot use your position as a judge to promote your own private interests.
Leon County has a great county and circuit court judiciary. Its judges are hard-working and abide by the Code of Judicial conduct.
They should not be judged by the allegations against this one judge who may have been acting significantly beyond the rules of conduct.
Alan R. Dakan. a resident of Tallahassee, is a former county judge in Sarasota County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.