- Associated Press - Thursday, March 27, 2014

PRINCETON, W.Va. (AP) - The Judicial Investigation Commission has admonished a former Mercer County magistrate, saying he abused his power and his conduct on the bench was shameful.

The commission began investigating Richard D. Fowler in late 2103 after sexually suggestive messages between him and a woman who had appeared before him in court were posted on Facebook. There also were allegations of sexual harassment and a complaint about extrajudicial activity, the Bluefield Daily Telegraph (https://bit.ly/1paZTxf) reported. The newspaper said it obtained the commission’s March 14 decision, which identified the woman only as “R.R.”, on Wednesday.

Fowler “exploited his position and attempted to use his judicial office to create inappropriate intimacy with R.R. and others,” the commission said in the admonishment, according to the newspaper. “Not only was his conduct offensive and an embarrassment to the robe, it was threatening to women who encountered (him) in his judicial position.”

Fowler denied the allegations in a written response to the court complaint. He said the Facebook messages were “totally absurd” and that he and the woman “had acted crazy on Facebook privately a few times joking and making fun of each other.”

In one incident, the commission said Fowler took the woman to his office during an arraignment for her boyfriend on misdemeanor charges and asked her if she would agree to the boyfriend being jailed for 10 days. The woman said Fowler patted her buttocks during the conversation, while the boyfriend said the former magistrate grabbed her buttocks when they came out of the office.

Other incidents included granting domestic violence petitions filed by the woman against her boyfriend, and dismissing a domestic assault charge against her.

Fowler’s “use of his position as a means to satisfy his personal desires was more than foolhardy and humiliating; it was a blatant abuse of power,” the admonishment states.

The commission found probable cause that Fowler violated multiple canons and the code of judicial conduct. The panel said it admonished Fowler instead of pursuing the allegations because he left office and said he would not seek public office again. But it reserved the right to reopen the matter if Fowler seeks public office again.

Fowler, who has served as magistrate since 2004, submitted a formal letter of retirement on Feb. 14, the newspaper said.

The commission’s admonishment referred to Fowler’s departure as a resignation.

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Information from: Bluefield Daily Telegraph, https://www.bdtonline.com

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