November 3, 2014

Florida judge removed from bench for moonlighting as self-publisher


"Bookstores and courtrooms: NEVER THE TWAIN SHALL MEET" - Florida

“Bookstores and courtrooms: NEVER THE TWAIN SHALL MEET” – Florida

There are a number of ways to get in trouble when you’re a Florida judge. Driving (and judging) while intoxicated. Grievous conflict of interest. Fisticuffs with a public defender in open court. And all the rest. And then there’s the unfortunate tale of Judge Judith Hawkins. Judge Hawkins was recently removed from the bench by the Florida Supreme Court, for, among other things, selling her self-published Christian book in court. Florida: where religious books are always causing such problems!

Judge Hawkins, who presides over Florida’s Second Circuit Court in Leon County, has run Gaza Road Ministries, a private business, for the last few years. She also wrote a book of musings about the Bible, Old Stories, New Insights, which she self-published in 2008.

But as reported in the Tallahassee Democrat, the Florida Judicial Qualifications Committee found that she wasn’t so great at keeping her two jobs separate.

The commission, which held a three-day hearing in the case in October, found her guilty of selling and offering to sell ministry products in the courthouse to lawyers and employees, promoting the sale of the products on her website that included photos of her in judicial robes and using her judicial assistant to promote the sale of ministry products. The JQC also found her guilty of failing to comply with state tax laws when selling ministry products, misleading investigators, reading magazines during court proceedings and not devoting her full time for judicial duties.

Publishing: so tantalizing, it’ll make even a judge dishonest! The official court documents provide further details on Judge Hawkins’ unfortunate bookselling techniques, including this one:

Eric Abramson left the State Attorneys’ office for private practice in May 2011. In December 2011, while Mr. Abramson was in a courthouse hallway of the courthouse discussing a case with another lawyer, Judge Hawkins (who was typically “very friendly”) stopped by to chat, mentioned that she had written a book, and that it was available for purchase. Mr. Abramson had no interest in the book (and has never read it to date), but purchased it on the spot. Mr Abramson didn’t think his purchase would consciously affect Judge Hawkins’ rulings but considered it “a lot better to buy the book than to possibly offend the judge.”

Removal from the bench is the most severe punishment the Florida Supreme Court was able to mete out, though it was not the JQC’s initial recommendation, due to finding that Hawkins’ actions had “charitable motives…and [Hawkins] had a lengthy judicial career and exemplary conduct for many years.” They concluded in January by recommending a suspension and fine.

The Supreme Court, however, was unconvinced. Hawkins’ uncooperative nature during the conduct hearings, her unwillingness to provide (and her outright destruction of) financial evidence, and her take that this behavior was due to “a moment when my faith instructed me, like many other litigants, to hold fast to my innocence and fight the good fight”  led the Court to make their final, damning decision.

Most booksellers operate from a position of inferiority. Our “good fight” is convincing someone to part with their time and money in exchange for the possibility of satisfaction. The rare moments when we exercise power come not from our position, but our literary authority and interpersonal expertise. Judge Hawkins’ fault was not in her exercise of faith or her desire to serve the reading public. A bookseller’s power is in convincing others that it was their idea to buy the book, and Judge Hawkins used her authority as a judge to violate that contract.

Speaking as a former bookseller, I can’t imagine how stressed a judge’s assistant who gets roped into it as a second profession would be. It’s a challenging and often thankless job, and it’s certainly not for everyone. Here’s hoping that Florida judges continue to keep their malfeasance venal, but that they leave bookselling’s good name out of it.


Liam O'Brien is the Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.