A preliminary review of funding for Florida’s new “Taj Mahal” courthouse indicates the 1st District Court of Appeal may have spent money initially appropriated for other purposes and got $16 million in a raid on the state’s Workers’ Compensation Trust Fund, reports the St. Petersburg Times. In letters to the Florida Supreme Court and to the agency that oversees construction of state buildings, Chief Financial Officer Sink said the findings warrant a thorough audit of the $48 million project in Tallahassee. Legislative approval for the courthouse came after intense lobbying by the 1st District’s chief judge, Paul Hawkes, and fellow Judge Brad Thomas, both former legislative staffers.
Sink said the audit will include a look at the $35 million bond issue used for the project, which legislators authorized on the last day of the 2007 session. The courthouse construction was an amendment to a lengthy transportation bill – an amendment many legislators say they were unaware of at the time. Now, a key legislator has raised new questions about how that happened. Sen. Charlie Dean, chairman of the House committee that oversaw court expenditures, says he rejected a plea from Hawkes and Thomas to fund the courthouse after Dean toured the existing courthouse. He said the state was slashing budgets and the courts had more important needs than the construction of a courthouse. Dean said Hawkes and Thomas indicated they would go around him to get the funding they needed.