By Carolina Bolado| Law360.Com
Law360, Miami (June 25, 2014, 2:41 PM ET) — The Florida Supreme Court has ordered a Leon County judge to show cause why she should not be removed from office for allegedly interfering with an investigation into her use of the office to promote her private business selling religious books.
The state’s highest court said Monday that after having considered the record of the proceeding before the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission, it now orders Judge Judith W. Hawkins to “show cause why removal from office is not the appropriate sanction in this case.”
The JQC in January recommended that Judge Hawkins be suspended for three months without pay and be publicly reprimanded. The panel also suggested a $17,000 fine to cover the costs of the prolonged investigation into her alleged misuse of her judicial office to promote her for-profit business Gaza Road Ministries.
The panel said that the case “presented a very close call between ‘removal’ and ‘discipline’” because of the judge’s actions once the investigation began. She refused to cooperate, made knowingly misleading statements to the investigator, destroyed evidence and refused to produce subpoenaed records, according to the panel.
The JQC filed charges against Judge Hawkins in June regarding both Gaza Road Ministries as well as other charges of questionable conduct in her Tallahassee courtroom, from being observed openly reading magazines during jury trials to maintaining idiosyncratic procedures known as “Hawkins Law” that were inconsistent with accepted legal practices.
The JQC also accused Judge Hawkins of often being absent and taking trips and vacations during trial weeks.
Most of the panel’s charges relate to Judge Hawkins’ actions regarding Gaza Road Ministries, a business promoting her religious writings and speaking events. She is accused of using photos of herself in her robe and her judicial email address to promote the company online and promoting and selling books and other products in the courthouse, including to attorneys appearing before her and to personnel over whom she has influence and authority.
The investigators also say that she used courtroom equipment and resources to conduct Gaza Road business and employed her judicial assistant to help run and promote the business, including during work hours to the detriment of disposing of cases “promptly, efficiently and fairly.”
They also said that Judge Hawkins paid her judicial assistant for her work on the private business but failed to properly report the full amounts to tax authorities and the JQC.
Judge Hawkins is represented by Gerald Kogan.
The JQC is represented by Gregory R. Miller and David L. McGee of Beggs & Lane RLLP and in-house counsel Michael L. Schneider.
The case is Inquiry Concerning A Judge, Judith W. Hawkins, case No. 12-2495, in the Florida Supreme Court.
–Additional reporting by Nathan Hale. Editing by Rebecca Flanagan.