The Florida Supreme Court handed down the most severe available penalty to a judge accused of having used her courtroom to advertise her for-profit ministry.
Leon County Judge Judith Hawkins was accused of running Gaza Road Ministries out of her offices at the county courthouse. According to court documents, Judge Hawkins sold ministry products in the courthouse, both to lawyers and her employees — one of whom she tasked with helping her sell her wares.
“Your involvement with [Gaza Road Ministries] caused you to devote less than your full time and full attention to your judicial duties,” the court found, noting that she would also “take trips” without informing “the attorneys or parties in advance of [her] absences.”
She was also found to have “maintained an idiosyncratic system of justice, inconsistent with generally accepted law and procedure, known as ‘Hawkins Law.'” One of the tenets of “Hawkins Law” was that she need not pay attention to matters in her courtroom unrelated to her side business.
The Supreme Court noted that “[w]hile presiding over jury trials you have been observed openly reading magazines, and when questioned explained that you were catching up with your reading. You also explained that if an objection was made, you could cover up your lack of attentiveness by asking counsel to rephrase the objection.”
Last October, the state’s Judicial Qualifications Commission suspended her for 90 days and fined her $17,000.
The state Supreme Court recommended yesterday that Judge Hawkins be removed unless she could “show cause why removal from office is not the appropriate sanction in this case.”
Watch a discussion of Hawkins’ case via the Tallahassee Democrat below.