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Ex-Mercer magistrate ‘embarrassment to robe’

PRINCETON, W.Va. — A former Mercer County magistrate who was under investigation for misconduct has been formerly admonished by a Supreme Court commission that called his behavior while serving on the bench “an embarrassment to the robe.”

Richard D. “Rick” Fowler came under scrutiny by the Judicial Investigation Commission (JIC) in late 2013 after sexually explicit Facebook messages with a woman who appeared before him in court were posted on the social networking site. Fowler announced his retirement last month.

The formal JIC admonishment, issued March 14 and obtained by the Daily Telegraph Wednesday, calls Fowler’s conduct “shameful, reprehensible and contemptible.”

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 JIC reprimand notes that four circumstances of “grave concern” were discovered during the investigation. Two of the incidents involved allegations of sexual harassment, one was a complaint about extrajudicial activity and the fourth involved events with the woman he corresponded with on Facebook, who is referred to as “R.R.” in the admonishment.

The commission document states the investigation supported formal charges be brought against Fowler. However, because he “resigned and openly acknowledged that he will never again seek public office” the commission issued the admonishment “for reasons of judicial economy and the knowledge that the public is protected because [Fowler] is no longer in office.”

The reprimand notes “this dismissal is without prejudice and the JIC reserves the right to reopen them should [Fowler] renege on his decision never again to seek public office at any time and in any state.”

In a section titled “The R.R. Matter,” the document details the relationship between R.R. and Fowler, and specific incidents when she and her boyfriend appeared before him in court…

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