State Settles With Local Gallery Over Contested "Taj Mahal" Court Photos

Dec 4, 2012

The State of Florida has agreed to settle a long-running dispute with a Tallahassee art gallery over photos that were meant for the First District Court of Appeal's new building.

The lawsuit stemmed from the state's refusal to pay $390,000 to Signature Art Gallery, the business that received a contract from the Peter Brown Construction  which built the building.

The Tallahassee courthouse  was completed in 2010 and has been dubbed the "Taj Mahal" because of its high costs,  extravagant design and décor, like African mahogany and granite countertops.  The project was a last-minute addition to the state's transportation budget.

The excesses prompted an investigation by the  Judicial Qualifications Commission which ultimately led to the resignation of former Chief Judge Paul Hawkes.

Gov. Rick Scott and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater released the following statement, announcing the  settlement.

Gov. Scott said, “Our most important goal is to protect taxpayer dollars to best meet the needs of Florida families. It was right to ask for a rigorous and thorough review of the tax dollars committed to this project. With the leadership of DMS Secretary Craig Nichols, both the CFO’s office and DMS have reached an end to the expensive and lengthy litigation surrounding this case.  CFO Atwater and I agree that the settlement will best safeguard taxpayer money while also signaling to all Floridians that our contracting system must be cost-effective, accountable, and transparent.”

The investigation into the financing and appropriation of the money to build the First DCA Courthouse began under former Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and continued under current CFO Jeff Atwater.

“From the outset of this long and painful process this office has maintained that the expenditures of precious tax dollars must be guided by the appropriation authority of the Legislature, and that the decisions of the Department of Management Services under the prior administration cannot be condoned," Atwater said.

"I am pleased that the Governor and the secretary of DMS share our collective responsibility to carefully safeguard state expenditures. I share in their commitment to guarantee that such excesses will not be repeated. With this settlement, the parties now agree that it is appropriate for the Legislature to determine the legitimacy of the payment request.”

Under the settlement agreement with the state, Signature Art Gallery will receive $392,658.56 for its work, plus $122,224.14 for litigation and other costs. The Legislative Budget Commission will have to approve the money.

The artwork involved in the settlement will go to the Department of State’s Division of Cultural Affairs.