Judge Faces Ethics Probe After Selling Religious Books in Court

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By William Peacock, Esq. on October 09, 2013 1:59 PM

We now know that, as a judge, you can't be a comedian. But how about leading a religious ministry? Does it make a difference if that ministry is for-profit and judicial resources are used to promote the ministry's products?

Leon County Judge Judith Hawkins, a Florida judge making $140,000 annually, is also the founder of Gaza Road Ministries, an organization that, according to its website, seeks "timeless Bible truths for today's applications." Those truths are expounded in a series of products, available online, and for a short time, from Judge Hawkins at the courthouse.

The Alleged (Mis?) Conduct

Other than accusations that Judge Hawkins was inattentive, and would be reading during court hearings, most of the misconduct allegations are directly related to her side business, reports WCTV.

The Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission alleges that Judge Hawkins used her chambers, court email address, staff, and computers, to run her side business, that she sold the religious materials in the courthouse (including to attorneys that appeared before her), that she was less than forthcoming during the investigation, and that the business distracted her from her day-to-day duties, including instances where she cleared her judicial calendar (necessitating additional subpoenas and judicial resources) in order to give paid lectures through her ministry.

Judge Hawkins, in court this week, admitted to selling religious books to "friends" in the courthouse, specifically those who she would invite to her birthday party, reports the Tallahassee Democrat. She is represented by former Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerald Kogan, who noted that Judge Hawkins had been named an outstanding county judge by her peers.

The Charges

The full amended charges list can be found on the Florida Supreme Court's website, along with a list of all other documents filed in her case. Here are the summaries:

  1. "Use of your judicial office to promote a private interest."

    This charge relates to the use of judicial resources and her status as a judge to promote her side business, including sale to attorneys in court, and using a picture of her in her robe on the Gaza Road website.
  2. "Failure to respect and comply with the law."

    The allegations here include using her own brand of justice in court, called "Hawkins Law," going off the record to keep coercive conversations quiet, preventing the recording of the sound of flipping magazine pages during trial, telling attorneys that the record would be manipulated to obstruct appellate review, not complying with tax laws (regarding Gaza Road), and failing to register the business's fictitious name.
  3. "Failure to act in a manner that promotes public confidence."

    This relates to the magazine reading, and after referring a defendant to an attorney, stating "tell them Judge Hawkins sent you."
  4. "Failure to devote full attention to the judicial office."

    She allegedly took trips during trial weeks, without notice, and used her "free time" at the court to promote her business.
  5. "Lack of candor and ignoring of the applicable law."

    During the investigation, she allegedly destructed and withheld evidence, and was less than forthcoming when questioned about sensitive matters, including compensation to her judicial assistant for work done on Gaza Road projects.

The hearing is ongoing throughout this week, with Judge Hawkins taking the stand yesterday. The punishment, should the charges be substantiated, could include removal from the bench.

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