NEWS FROM THE FLORIDA DEMOCRATIC PARTYFor Immediate Release: October 25, 2010
Ross Blames Rubio, Refuses to Explain Role in Taj Mahal Scandal
As new questions arise about “Taj Mahal hero” Dennis Ross’ role in funding $48 million for the extravagant courthouse, Ross is refusing to explain what “heroic” actions he took. Instead of telling the truth, he is pleading ignorance and blaming the whole scandal on other legislators, most notably Marco Rubio. When originally asked by the St. Petersburg Times about his role in the Taj Mahal funding, Ross said “he helped the 1st District Court get extra money to create a workers’ compensation staff to help with cases.”
Later, when asked the same question by the Ledger, Ross told them “I don’t know anything about that. That was Marco Rubio.” “Dennis Ross has taken credit for funding a special workers compensation wing in the lavish courthouse while claiming to know nothing about it,” said Florida Democratic Party Spokesperson Eric Jotkoff. “He is clearly a Tallahassee insider who has no problem engaging in backroom deals, wasting 48 million of taxpayer dollars and then lying to cover up the truth. That’s the last thing we need in Washington.” Jotkoff continued, “Rubio and Ross do have a lot in common when it comes to using taxpayer dollars for their own personal gain. Rubio, might be the subject of an FBI investigation for his lavish spending as Speaker, but, at least Rubio didn’t use 48 million in taxpayer dollars to help win a case, causing an injured firefighter to lose benefits he deserved. “
Email from Judge Hawkes: Ross A “Hero” For Helping Secure Funds for New $48M 1st DCA Courthouse According to press reports:
…But now the St. Petersburg Times has obtained an e-mail circulated among the judges on the courthouse building committee that identifies the “heroes” in delivering the money to build it. Among them, the e-mail identifies a select few who were “especially helpful,” including Rubio, and other officials and lobbyists, identified as “other heroes.” (Two Polk legislators, state Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, and Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, were on the “other heroes” list.) The $48 million courthouse for the 1st District Court of Appeal has been panned for its opulence at a time when money is tight. Plans initially called for each judge to get a 60-inch, flat-screen TV in his or her mahogany-paneled chambers, and for each judge to get a private bathroom and kitchen, with granite countertops. Some extras were scrapped after the negative publicity. Recent news stories told how money to build the “Taj Mahal” courthouse was slipped through as an amendment to an unrelated, 142-page transportation bill on the last day of the 2007 legislative session. [Lakeland Ledger, 9/23/10; http://www.theledger.com/article/20100923/NEWS/100929917/1410?Title=E-Mails-Tie-Marco-Rubio-2-Polk-Legislators-to-Taj-Mahal-Courthouse] In addition to Ross and a few other lawmakers, at least 3 lobbyists were listed as “heros” for securing the funds. [St. Petersburg Times, 9/23/10; http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/e-mail-names-heroes-who-got-legislative-funding-for-taj-mahal-courthouse/1123335] 8 Days After 1st DCA Funds Were Secured, Ross’ Case Was In Front of Hawkes According to press reports, the 1 st DCA funds were included and passed “on the last day of the 2007 legislative session.” [Lakeland Ledger, 9/23/10; http://www.theledger.com/article/20100923/NEWS/100929917/1410?Title=E-Mails-Tie-Marco-Rubio-2-Polk-Legislators-to-Taj-Mahal-Courthouse]
According to Florida House of Representatives records, this day was October 29, 2007 – the end of Special Session “D.” [http://www.myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Documents/loaddoc.aspx?PublicationType=Session&DocumentType=Journals&Session=2008&FileName=Bound_House Journal No.7, October 29, 2007 (Monday).pdf] Eight days after the 1 st DCA funds were passed in the 2007 session, Hawkes presided over a worker’s compensation appeal brought by Lakeland firefighter David Bivens. According to the case docket, the appeal to Hawkes began in November 6, 2007 – including filings by both Ross and the plaintiffs attorney. [1 st DCA Docket for Case #07-5688; http://220.127.116.11/pls/ds/ds_docket]
Hawkes Later Sided Against Firefighter & With Ross According to press reports: Ross was the lead defense counsel for the City of Lakeland when he argued the case, Bivens v. City of Lakeland, during the Florida Workers’ Compensation Institute’s annual conference in Orlando in August 2008. Bivens said Hawkes should have recused himself from the three-judge panel that reviewed the case, which Bivens filed under the state’s “Heart/Lung” law. The appeals court upheld a ruling by Judge of Compensation Claims Mark H. Hofstad that the hypertension suffered by Bivens was “essential hypertension” and not the arterial hypertension covered by the Heart/Lung law.
But the appeals court also overturned Hofstad’s ruling that Bivens was due compensation based on microvascular angina (MVA). [Worker’s Comp Central, 9/29/10]
Judge Hawkes’ ruling, rendered in October 2008, can be viewed here: http://opinions.1dca.org/written/opinions2008/10-02-08/07-5688.pdf.Firefighter Says Judge Should Have Stepped Down, Not Ruled on His Case Since Ross’s “hero” status has come to light, “Bivens said Hawkes, who wrote the opinion, should have stepped down from the three-judge panel that issued the ruling after deciding Ross was a hero. “It looks and tastes really bad,” Bivens said. “This decision wasn’t even in the ball park (with past court decisions).” [Worker’s Comp Central, 9/29/10]
Bivens Files Motion Against Judges
On Wednesday, October 20th, Lakeland firefighter David Bivens filed a motion that two judges, including Judge Hawkes, recuse themselves because of their relationship with Dennis Ross.