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Supreme Court dumps ‘lost’ Twiggs probate judge
June 28, 2010 — A mid-Georgia judge — who admitted to being “as lost as I could be” when he took office — was removed from the bench today by the Georgia Supreme Court.
Twiggs County Probate Judge Kenneth Fowler had been suspended with pay May 14 while awaiting the high court’s decision. The state’s Judicial Qualifications Commission had recommended his ouster for abusive behavior, financial misconduct and disregard for legal standards in court.
The high court’s order, released this morning, found:
Judge Fowler’s misconduct, both before and after the hearing on the formal charges against him, shows that he is simply unwilling to live up to his legal and ethical responsibilities as a judge. His ignorance of the law is inexcusable, and his abuse of the judicial office unacceptable. …
We cannot expect that members of the public will respect the law and remain confident in our judiciary while judges who do not respect and follow the law themselves remain on the bench.
After a two-day hearing in January, the JQC found that Fowler:
- Told criminal defendants that they, not prosecutors, had the burden of proving their case;
- Allowed defendants to “buy out” community-service sentences by paying money into a fund under Fowler’s control;
- Abused and insulted parties in his courtroom;
- Disposed of criminal charges beyond his authority and jurisdiction; and
- Ordered the sheriff not to give inmates credit for “good time” in determining when they would be released.
Fowler later pressured a private company to reassign two probation officers who had testified against him at the JQC hearing. He threatened to replace the company if it refused, according to testimony.
Fowler, a former convenience-store operator with virtually no legal training, testified in January that he was overwhelmed by the position after winning a 2004 election for the judgeship.
“When I first took office,’ he said, “I was just as lost as I could be.”