A hearing for a Middle Georgia judge accused of violating judicial rules is scheduled to begin today in Atlanta.
Twiggs County Probate Judge Kenneth E. Fowler was charged last June with 16 counts of violations by the state’s Judicial Qualifications Commission.
The JQC, which will conduct the hearing, comprises two judges appointed by the state Supreme Court, three attorneys appointed by the Georgia Bar Association and two citizens appointed by the governor. Based on testimony at the hearing, the commission will make a recommendation to the Georgia Supreme Court, which will then issue a decision.
The most severe penalty the court could issue is permanent removal of a judge from the bench, said Cheryl Fisher Custer, the JQC’s executive director.
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Fowler’s case is the first hearing of this kind against a Georgia judge in several years, Custer said.
Efforts to reach Fowler’s attorney, Jon Helton of Dublin, were unsuccessful Wednesday.
The JQC started investigating complaints against Fowler in 2008. Among the charges filed against Fowler last year were accusations of:
— Stating to criminal defendants that they carried the burden of proof to prove their innocence on charges filed against them.
— Finding defendants guilty without allowing them to hear sworn testimony of the charging officer or other witnesses.
— Attempting to dissuade defendants from exercising their right to request transfer of their cases to Superior Court.
— Expressing prejudgment or bias in criminal matters Fowler heard.
— Failing to apply proper legal standard for a finding of guilt in criminal matters.
— Giving false or misleading information to criminal defendants while explaining the conditions of probated sentence.
— Improperly questioning and interrogating defendants in violation of the defendant’s rights.
— Allowing criminals to “buy out” the community service portion of their criminal sentences. The “fees” were then deposited into a local bank account, in which Fowler maintains exclusive control over the holding and disbursement of funds. He failed to turn over the fees to the Twiggs County government.
Additionally, Fowler allegedly provided a false written statement to the county when questioned about the account, as well as issued improper court orders that directed the payment of money from the account to various expenditures that Fowler decided and approved. The majority of this money was used to buy various law enforcement equipment.
— Ordering “costs” to be paid by defendants in amounts higher than allowed by law.
— Failing to be dignified, patient and courteous to individuals appearing in Probate Court. Fowler is accused of using rude, abusive and insulting language to both defendants and witnesses. Examples include yelling at a defendant to “shut up” and insinuating that a female defendant provided sexual favors to a Georgia State trooper. He also referred to black people as “colored.”
— Using the prestige of his judgeship to improperly influence a litigant in a case not in Fowler’s court. Fowler allegedly called a tenant on behalf of a Twiggs County property owner and identified himself as a probate judge. He then ordered the tenant to vacate a rental property, according to the charges. According to the charges, this led to an assault on the tenant. At a hearing in Magistrate Court, Fowler allegedly made a false statement to the Magistrate Judge of Twiggs County, denying involvement with either of the parties.
— Issuing orders that attempted to prohibit the Twiggs County sheriff or other lawful custodians of inmates from awarding “good time” in accordance with state law.
— Illegally sentencing a defendant charged with contempt of court to more than 20 days in custody.
— Allowing unqualified persons to serve as interpreters in his court. According to the charges, Fowler allowed an individual to act as an interpreter, even though he acknowledged to the court he couldn’t speak Spanish. In addition, the individual was acquainted with the defendant.
Fowler’s case will be heard at 9 a.m. in the state Court of Appeals courtroom in the State Judicial Building in Atlanta.
Information from The Telegraph’s archives was included in this report.
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.