By SAMANTHA PERRY
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
The impending retirement of a Mercer County magistrate caught up in a social media scandal last year is now official.
Rick Fowler, who came under investigation after sexually explicit Facebook messages with a woman who appeared before him in court were made public, presented a letter to Mercer County Circuit Chief Judge Derek Swope on Friday.
“This letter is to inform you of my decision to retire from the Magistrate Court Judge position,” Fowler wrote. “I find that I am finally in the position to be able to retire after serving my country and my county for many years.”
Fowler became the subject of a Judicial Investigations Commission (JIC) probe late last year after the message thread with the woman who had appeared before him as a defendant at least three times was posted on Facebook. Screenshots of the posting obtained by the Daily Telegraph show graphic sexual banter between the two, and discussion of meeting for a sexual liaison.
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]”
Results of the JIC investigation have not yet been made public.
Earlier this week, Fowler posted his intention to retire on his Facebook page and in a note hung on his office door.
In his official letter, Fowler writes that he is retiring from public life. “I have truly enjoyed serving the county and the state, but I shall not make any attempt to run for public office again.”
Fowler’s replacement will be named by Judge Swope, West Virginia Supreme Court Administrative Director Steve Canterbury said. “It is solely the chief judge’s discretion.”
In his letter, Fowler asks Swope not to appoint two former political rivals to the position. “I am fully aware that you have the ultimate decision on who will replace me as magistrate,” Fowler wrote. “However, I also have to ask that you do not consider Charlie Poe or John McGinnis due to their efforts to defame and slander me as a magistrate.”
Poe is a former county magistrate who lost in the last election. McGinnis was also a candidate for magistrate and is now an assistant prosecuting attorney for the county.
McGinnis said Fowler may have written the comment because he was questioned by the JIC investigator.
McGinnis said he didn’t know what was transpiring with Fowler until “all this came out on Facebook ... I knew some odd things occurred.”
“Then the investigator came to me and he asked me questions and all I did was answer them, truthfully,” McGinnis said. “This wasn’t any kind of political vendetta.”
A telephone message left at a listing for Charlie Poe was not returned Friday.
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.
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.
Fowler has served as a magistrate in Mercer County since 2004. He declined to comment on this story.
— Contact Samantha Perry at email@example.com.