Two judges leaving embattled 1st DCA

Feb 28, 2011

The following article was published in The Florida Current on February 28, 2011:

Two judges leaving embattled 1st DCA

By Kim MacQueen 

Two longtime judges are leaving the embattled First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee.

Judges Charles J. Kahn, 59, and Peter D. Webster, 62, were appointed to the 1st DCA in 1991 by then-Gov. Lawton Chiles. Kahn leaves the bench to work as a federal magistrate in Pensacola, while Webster plans to join the Carlton Fields law firm’s Tallahassee office.

The 1st DCA has been embroiled in controversy lately following the construction of its grandiose new courthouse — slated by some estimates to cost nearly $70 million — in Tallahassee’s Southwood complex. Reached by phone Monday, Webster said the courthouse issue had no bearing on his decision to step down.

“I hope you know I had nothing to do with any of the decisions that were made on the courthouse,” Webster said. “I was here doing the work the taxpayers paid me to do.”

Rather, Webster said, his decision had everything to do with the way judges — and by extension all state employees — are treated by the state legislature.

“I think anybody who either listens to the radio or reads any of the news stories knows it’s probably not a good time to be a state employee,” he said. “The fact of the matter is I’m in a position to leave and make significantly more money working in the private sector. But it wouldn’t be as much of an issue if state employees weren’t continually targeted as being overpaid and not working particularly hard.”

Webster, who has been on the bench for 25 years, was twice nominated by the Judicial Qualifying Commission for a seat on the Florida Supreme Court. Yet he said his judge’s salary this year isn’t as high as it was when he worked as an attorney in private practice in 1985.

Kahn, who expects to be sworn in as federal magistrate in Pensacola Friday, was cleared of sexual harassment charges brought by 13 of his fellow judges in 2006. That same year, Kahn ran afoul of his colleagues when he voted to exonerate former Senate President W.D. Childers, whose conviction was ultimately upheld.

Kahn says he’s glad the move will bring him back to Pensacola, which he considers home.

“I feel extremely fortunate to have been able to serve as a Florida state judge for 20 years. I feel a great closeness to this institution — I’ve either practiced or been a judge here for 31 years.”

Asked if the Taj Mahal controversy had any impact on his decision to step down, Kahn said: “None whatsoever. I love this building.”