By SAMANTHA PERRY
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
A Mercer County magistrate, who is the target of an investigation stemming from a Facebook message thread made public, said the private comments were taken out of context and is part of a plot by a political rival to get him out of office.
Mercer County Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ash confirmed Tuesday that he asked the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department to investigate Magistrate Richard D. “Rick” Fowler as a result of a social message thread.
The message thread, of which the Daily Telegraph obtained screenshots, contains graphic sexual banter between Fowler and a Princeton woman, and what appears to be discussion between the two of meeting for a sexual tryst.
Criminal complaints obtained by the Daily Telegraph indicate the woman has 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 this year on a domestic assault charge.
The latter part of the message thread contains a posting by Fowler that reads, “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]”
Fowler said the investigation and public spotlight on what was supposed to be a private message “is kind of ridiculous. I’m not married, this girl is not married and we goof around and talk on Facebook. We tease and talk crap.”
Fowler denies having had a sexual relationship with the woman. “Outside of a court hallway, I’ve never seen her — even in Walmart.”
The woman “is not a girlfriend, has never been,” Fowler said. “We have never, ever even touched fingers, unless I shook her hand. It (the message thread) was so out of context.”
Fowler said the comment about not being able to “help you in the future” was his way of telling the woman that if they were dating he could not help her in the future.
“That’s a personal message from me to her, thrown out into the world ... and honestly, all it is, is stating a fact,” Fowler said.
Fowler said he tries to help everyone who comes before him. “I’d do a favor for the devil if he needed it. My theory is if you help someone and never see them again, it worked.”
Last year, Fowler was admonished by the state Judicial Investigation Commission for an inappropriate relationship with a woman who was the wife and victim of a man who had appeared before him, 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.”
When asked by an investigator about the relationship, “Magistrate Fowler maintained that he never dated the wife/victim,” the complaint states.
Later, in a second interview, Fowler admitted having a personal relationship with the woman.
The admonishment of Fowler regarding the employment stems from him taking a second job at Princeton Speedway without approval from the high court. Fowler initially told the investigation commission he volunteered at the racetrack after becoming a magistrate. Later, when shown checks from the speedway made out to him, Fowler admitted receiving the checks but said “he returned them uncashed at a later date.”
The complaint states that an investigator interviewed the owners of Princeton Speedway, who said that “Magistrate Fowler had cashed both checks. They also stated that Magistrate Fowler never returned the checks or money.”
The Judicial Investigations Commission found that “the violations were serious enough to warrant a public admonishment,” the complaint states.
Later, Fowler was warned “to refrain from engaging in similar behavior in the future.”
Steve Canterbury, administrative director of the state Supreme Court, said any investigation into alleged inappropriate conduct by a judge is handled by the Judicial Investigations Commission, and they can not confirm or deny whether there is a current investigation into Fowler.
“They are completely independent, and should be,” Canterbury said.
Ash said any pertinent information obtained by the local investigation will be forwarded to the Judicial Investigations Commission.
Fowler maintains the current controversy surrounding him has been stirred up by a political rival who wants his job.
“I don’t want any sexual favors,” he said.
Fowler has served as a magistrate in Mercer County since 2004.
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