JUDICIAL ETHICS

Leon County judge accused of using office to promote for-profit religious business

 

Tampa Bay Times Senior Correspondent

Leon County Judge Judith W. Hawkins was charged Wednesday with misconduct, accused of using her office to promote a business that sells Bible study books, souvenirs and other products to attorneys and others who regularly appear in her courtroom.

The charges focus on Gaza Road Ministries, a business that sells books, stages seminars and conferences and sponsors mission trips to other countries, including Guyana, Romania, Mongolia, Mexico and Brazil.

Her sermons have included “Your Day in Court,’’ emphasizing that “God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether it is good or whether it is evil.’’ In October she appeared at a seminar discussing, “When Life Gives You Lemons,” turning obstacles into opportunities.

Florida’s Judicial Qualifications Commission alleges that these activities and the use of a judicial assistant who has helped promote the ministry take time away from judicial duties for a profit-making business.

The Commission also alleges that selling and attempting to sell her books, study guides and other publications in her Leon County Courthouse chambers and courtroom to attorneys and court staff is an abuse of Hawkins’ position.

In 2011, Hawkins reported it as a business interest that generated more than $13,500 in income, the Commission noted.

“You often take time away from your judicial duties to promote your business to the detriment of the prompt and efficient administration of justice,’’ the commission charged.

Hawkins was elected in 1996, the first African-American elected in the Second Judicial Circuit that includes Leon County. She is married to Dr. James Hawkins, former dean of the school of journalism at Florida A&M University.

Contacted at the courthouse shortly after the charges were released by the Florida Supreme Court, Hawkins said she could not discuss them because she had yet to receive a copy.

She has 20 days to respond to the charges. The commission has the authority to recommend a reprimand or removal from office after a hearing. The final decision is up to the state Supreme Court.

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