The Georgia Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling Monday that permanently removes Twiggs County Probate Court Judge Kenneth Fowler from the bench and barred him from ever holding or seeking judicial office in Georgia.
Evidence was presented in hearings earlier this year that Fowler ran a county slush fund, improperly told criminal defendants it was their burden to prove their innocence, disposed of criminal matters outside his authority and participated in other misconduct.
“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,” the justices wrote in the opinion. “His ignorance of the law is inexcusable, and his abuse of his judicial office unacceptable.”
Messages left for Fowler’s lawyer, Jon Helton, were not returned Monday.
The court’s decision cannot be appealed, said Christopher Anulewicz, an attorney who argued on behalf of the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission.
“This is the end of the line,” Anulewicz said. “The Supreme Court is the final arbiter of this. I think the people of Georgia are well served to have Judge Fowler off the bench.”
While it’s fairly common for the Judicial Qualifications Commission to file formal charges against judges, it’s rare that a judge’s case reaches the stage of a formal hearing, said Cheryl Fisher Custer, the commission’s executive director.
Fowler’s case was the first in five years to reach the stage of a formal hearing, Custer said.
In her 11 years with the commission, she could only remember two other cases in which formal hearings were held.
Custer said judges typically resign or consent to the discipline recommended by the commission.
Fowler isn’t the first Twiggs County judge to come under fire.
Former Probate Court Judge David Crenshaw was removed from office in June 2001 after he pleaded guilty to charges of theft by taking and violating his oath of office. The allegations stemmed from a mortgage business Crenshaw was accused of running from his probate court office.
Fowler’s chief clerk, Brenda Little, has been running court operations and serving as the acting probate judge during Fowler’s suspension.
Little said she appointed Dublin attorney Ralph Jackson to sit on the bench during traffic court, and she anticipates being sworn in as probate judge today.
“Everything has been handled smoothly in a transition stage,” Little said.
She declined comment about whether she’d run for the office in an upcoming election.
Twiggs County Elections Supervisor Marette Fair said she placed calls to the county’s attorney Monday for information about the probate judge position.
“We’re trying to find out just as fast as we can,” she said.
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.