After striking out in the initial hearing, Judge Judith Hawkins filed a motion for rehearing Friday in an attempt to save her seat on the bench.
Hawkins, a veteran judge in the Leon County Second Judicial Circuit, filed the motion to the Florida Supreme Court hours before her midnight deadline. It has been almost two years since the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission first charged Hawkins with violating her judicial duties for using her position to advance her side ministry business.
Her charges were amended June 2013 to include additional charges of not cooperating with the FJQC during their investigation. The FJQC recommended in January that Hawkins serve a 90-day suspension, receive a public reprimand and pay a $17,000 fine. However, the state Supreme Court ordered the expulsion of Hawkins from the bench Oct. 31.
Mutaqee Akbar, the founder of Akbar Law Firm, was originally supposed to be a witness during one of the incidents that was reported against Hawkins.
“An investigator came and talked to me and I told the investigator at the time that I thought it was a witch hunt,” Akbar said. “I thought that it was unfair how they were coming after Judge Hawkins.”
As someone who has spent time in her courtroom, Akbar said that Judge Hawkins was a target long before the investigation was filed against her.
“Being in the criminal defense bench and being in her courtroom, I noticed that they were often trying to attack her and trying to find reasons to get her off the bench,” Akbar said.
Last week, well-known community leaders, ministers and concerned citizens made a statement regarding the harshness of Judge Hawkins’ removal.
Rev. Stanley L. Walker, pastor of Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church for 36 years, was among the leaders in attendance.
“We wanted the Supreme Court and others to reconsider giving her a second chance,” Walker said. “We’re not condoning [what she did] but we feel that every person needs a second chance.”
Many feel that the removal of Hawkins from the bench is an extreme measure. Akbar said that he thinks the ruling was especially severe because in the history of her tenure, Hawkins was never one to “bow down to the status quo.”
“I think she challenged the state attorney’s office often because of what she thought was unfair,” Akbar said. “The state attorney’s office didn’t like that she was challenging them.”
Long-time Leon County Commissioner, Bill Proctor said in a statement during the Supreme Court’s “deadly Halloween decision” to remove Hawkins it’s important to remember her role in diversifying the courts within Second Judicial Circuit.
When Hawkins was first elected to the Second Judicial Circuit in 1996, she became the first African American woman to ever serve as a judge in the circuit.
Proctor said that if Hawkins is removed from the bench, her successor should be someone that looks like her.
“The successor of Judge Hawkins should definitely be an African American woman,” Proctor said. “There is no excuse to overlook a black woman serving.”
Despite her wrongdoings, Hawkins’ legacy of giving second chances has encouraged many supporters to fight for her second chance.
“I’ve seen a lot of people come in front of her court [and] tell her that she changed their life because she didn’t make a decision that could have destroyed them,” Akbar said.
While the community waits for a response from the high court, many are left warming the bench, waiting to see how it all plays out for Hawkins.
Walker said, “We are hoping that they [the members of the Florida Supreme Court] have some compassion in giving Hawkins another chance.”