Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

February 13, 2014

‘Retiring, not resigning’; Fowler to no longer hold magistrate position

PRINCETON — A Mercer County magistrate, who was the subject of an investigation spurred by a racy Facebook message thread, has announced his retirement via social media and a note on his office door.

Richard D. “Rick” Fowler became the target of a Judicial Investigations Commission (JIC) probe in late 2013 after explicit Facebook messages with a woman who appeared before him in court were posted on the social networking site. The results of the JIC investigation have not yet been made public.

In his Facebook post, Fowler wrote, “To clarify the rumors...I am going to retire 2-28-14...not resign. I will enjoy both of my retirement’s [sic]...Air Force and Magistrate. I will miss all of the wonderful people I have met...but its [sic] time to move closer to my parents ...”

Fowler also wrote about being excited about living closer to his family.

“Thank you for your support for the past 10 years,” he concluded. “Be safe and please accept my token of appreciation to everyone.”

Fowler also posted a note on his office door that reads, “Do not change lock until 2-28-14. I have to get my things. Rick. Retiring — not resigning.” A smiley face was also drawn on the note.

West Virginia Supreme Court Administrative Director Steve Canterbury said he has received no official notification of Fowler’s retirement.

“It doesn’t surprise me to hear of that note on his door,” Canterbury said. “I can only hope that there will be a more formal letter properly signed and delivered to Chief Judge Derek Swope and to the administrative office of the court.”

In an interview with the Bluefield Daily Telegraph in January, Fowler said he had no details on the specifics of the investigation. “I really don’t even know when they (the Judicial Investigations Commission) meet. They don’t tell me anything about it.”

The message thread that prompted the JIC investigation, of which the Daily Telegraph obtained screenshots, contained graphic sexual banter between Fowler and a Princeton woman, and what appeared to be discussion between the two of meeting for a sexual tryst.

Criminal complaints obtained by the Daily Telegraph show the woman appeared in Fowler’s court on at least three occasions — twice in November 2012 on domestic violence and obstructing an officer charges and once in January of 2013 on a domestic assault charge.

The latter part of the message thread contained a posting by Fowler that read, “This has to be private. If anyone knew... it would keep me frim [sic] being able to help you out with other things in the future. ok? [sic]”

In an earlier interview with the Daily Telegraph, Fowler called the public spotlight on the message thread “kind of ridiculous,” adding, “I’m not married, this girl is not married and we goof around and talk on Facebook. We tease and talk crap.”

He also denied having a sexual relationship with the woman, saying she “is not a girlfriend, has never been.”

Fowler was admonished by the Judicial Investigations Commission in 2012 for an inappropriate relationship with a woman who was the wife and victim of a man who had appeared before him in court, taking a second job without approval from the Supreme Court and lying to the commission’s investigator.

According to the complaint, Fowler began dating the woman “approximately two months after the criminal charges had been resolved against her now ex-husband, but at a time when he was still serving probation.”

In earlier interviews, Fowler, who has served as a magistrate in Mercer County since 2004, maintained that the recent controversy was politically motivated and spurred by a political rival who wanted his job.

Fowler did not return telephone calls seeking comment on this story.

— Contact Perry at

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