Hawkins reinstated, next move not clear
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
When a friend sent a congratulatory text message to former Leon County judge Judith Hawkins for being reinstated to the Florida bar, she was a little surprised.
Hawkins responded, telling her friend that her message might have been a bit premature. Hawkins said she would pray for the decision from the Supreme Court that her friend mentioned.
Within minutes Hawkins received an email that the court did indeed clear her to return to practicing law. She informed her friend, who responded, “Well, that was a quick response to prayer,” Hawkins said.
Actually, Hawkins had endured two years of waiting to find out her fate after being removed from the bench and later suspended by the bar. Central to her removal and suspension was the findings of the Judicial Qualifying Commission that Hawkins sold products related to her Gaza Road Ministry in the courthouse.
Hawkins, the first Black elected to the bench 18 years ago, was reinstated a week ago. She was given 30 days to repay court cost of $1,091.76. The time she’d spent doing 50 hours of volunteer work also was taken into consideration.
Hawkins said she didn’t have any immediate future plans to resume her private practice. However, she said trying to get reelected to the court is not an option because of age restrictions.
Her response to the decision was emotional, her voice cracking with every word.
“I’m very thankful,” she said. “I’m still kind of numb because it represents the end. I hope it also represents the beginning of the new page, new book, (and) new chapter in my life. It has been a very long and hard journey.
“But for the prayer of the righteous and those who simply prayed for me I would not be holding on. This has been an extreme spiritual experience.”
The outpouring of relief was swift from her supporters.
“I want to commend the Florida Supreme Court for reinstating Judith Hawkins to the bar,” said Rev. R.B. Holmes, minister at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. “Thank you justices.
“Attorney Hawkins deserves another chance. She has a bright future ahead and I am praying that God will give her good health and much success.”
A devout Christian, who founded Gaza Roads Ministries in 2010, her missionary work has taken her to several foreign countries. She wrote “Old Stories, New Insights,” her first book in 2013 and recently followed that up with a second edition.
The book speaks to women about how the challenges they face today aren’t much different from those faced by women in the Bible.
“Like them, we still battle with issues of self-esteem and self-worth, basic survival and a myriad of social pressure,” Hawkins explained about the book on her website. “Bible women really do teach us lessons applicable for today.”
Hawkins has been able to continue her missionary work despite enduring what she referred to as a “whirlwind of Job’s trials” that culminated with her recent reinstatement.
Since losing her brother in 2012, she has been enduring a series of challenges. Her husband, James, died in 2013, followed by her removal from the bench in 2014, then the suspension from practicing law in 2015.
On top of that, she said, she suffered financial losses when she attempted to return to private practice immediately after being removed from the bench.
“I had no idea they were coming after my license,” she said, “otherwise I wouldn’t have opened my office. I was really taken aback.”
During her time of uncertainty, Hawkins got plenty of support from members of the law community whoheld press conferences and others like attorney Carolyn Cummings were more personal in their backing of the former judge.
Cummings praised Hawkins’ work on the bench.
“The general consensus was that she was a great judge,” Cummings said. “She was a fair judge (and) she had a lot of respect from the bench and the bar. We always thought she was a fair judge.
“She might not have always ruled with you or the way you wanted her to rule, but you always walked out of that courtroom knowing that you had been treated fairly and that she had followed the law. I have a lot of respect for Judge Hawkins.”
While the decision came during the holiday season, Hawkins said she had not found a way to celebrate her victory.
“I’m still processing this,” she said. “Yes, I’m very glad that there is closure on this.”