There were apologies all around Wednesday as members of a Florida Senate budget committee heard from those involved in building the posh “Taj Mahal” courthouse for the 1st District Court of Appeal, reports the St. Petersburg Times. Two of the court's judges apologized if they went beyond what legislators wanted when they built the $50 million courthouse. Legislators apologized for giving the court so much money in the first place. The Department of Management Services apologized for not supervising the project properly.
The apologists included Judges Paul M. Hawkes and Brad Thomas, who have been identified as key players in the backroom deals that pushed the state funding through. Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles T. Canady said the state's highest court is coming up with rules and remedies to keep it from happening again. Canady noted that he referred an audit of the project to the Judicial Qualifications Commission and changed the leadership at the court, ordering Hawkes to resign as chief judge. Hawkes remains on the court. Canady will require future projects to be under the direct supervision of the state court administrator and is drafting rules that would prohibit judges from lobbying for any substantive changes in the law or budget priorities without approval from the Supreme Court. He is also planning to relocate 50 employees from rental quarters into the new courthouse.