FLORIDA–A Florida judge has been reinstated by the Bar after having her license suspended in 2015.
Judge Judith Hawkins was accused of selling religious books put out by an organization she runs, Gaza Road Ministries, at the courthouse where she worked. As a result of the accusations, she was removed from the Bar in 2014 and had her law license suspended in September 2015. The suspension was for nine months and in September 2016 Hawkins applied to be reinstated.
“I was very surprised by my experiences, both the removal from the bench and the suspension of my license,” Hawkins told the Florida Record.
She was initially investigated in 2012 by the Judicial Qualifications Commission on claims of judicial misconduct. Investigators said she crossed the line between her work as a judge and her promotion of Gaza Road Ministries. They said she used photos of herself in her judicial clothing on the ministry website. She was also accused of asking an assistant to help her promote the ministry books at the courthouse.
She said meeting residents who supported her has helped her deal with the process.
“While I may have had my public legacy significantly tarnished, I am confident that the work that I did as a judge was valued by those who had an opportunity to interact with me," Hawkins said.
In a 2014 press release the Florida Bar said they hoped to make an example of Hawkins
“It is our hope that this decision will serve as a reminder to judges of their continuing obligation to personally observe the high standards of conduct mandated by the Code of Judicial Conduct, and to conduct themselves in all things in a manner that will demonstrate candor and preserve the integrity and independence of the judiciary.”
Hawkins agreed they had made an example of her, “but I am sure that the example is one they may not have thought through.”
The Bar raised concerns that Hawkins’ self-published a book in 2008 and failed to register the ministry with the state. The Bar also claimed that Hawkins did not pay sales tax on the income from the ministry business. She allegedly deleted records and refused to comply with investigators.
As a result of the investigations, she was fined $17,000 and required to pay $1,000 to the Bar, for investigative costs, before she could be reinstated. Judge Hawkins was reinstated by the Florida Supreme Court, effective immediately.
“The reinstatement of my bar license allows me to close this chapter of my life and I am very pleased about that,” Hawkins said.
She said she is not sure where she is going and what she will do with the license.
“It is just nice to have it," she said.
Hawkins earned her law degree from the Florida State University College of Law in 1984. She was given a master's in family relations and human development by Ohio State University; and also has a bachelor's in home economics and journalism, which she earned at Andrews University in 1973. She became a judge in Leon County in 1996.