Macon attorney appointed to Twiggs probate judge’s hearing

A Macon attorney was appointed Wednesday by the Georgia Supreme Court as a special master in a hearing against a Twiggs County probate judge.

H. Jerome Strickland will act as special master — essentially a judge — and will have 10 days to set a hearing in response to an emergency motion filed by the state’s Judicial Qualifications Commission calling for the immediate suspension without pay of Twiggs County Probate Judge Kenneth E. Fowler.

The emergency motion came Tuesday after Fowler, 61, filed a letter April 7 with Eric Haskins of Middle Georgia Probation LLC, asking Haskins to remove two probation officers, John Napier and Barron Fuqua, from his court. During a formal JQC hearing in January, the two testified against Fowler for alleged judicial misconduct.

Partly based on their testimony, the JQC issued a March 29 recommendation to the Georgia Supreme Court that Fowler be removed from office.

Fowler is still within the 30-day window to file an appeal. Jane Hansen, spokeswoman for the Supreme Court, said Fowler hadn’t filed an appeal as of Wednesday afternoon. But Fowler’s attorney, Jon Helton, said he plans to appeal on Fowler’s behalf.

Fowler said in his letter that Napier and Fuqua should be removed from his court because “the testimony that they offered against me appeared as if they had some personal vendetta against me, and it went further than just relaying what they had observed. Because of this, the level of trust necessary to effectively work together has been destroyed.”

The JQC motion states that Fowler is “clearly attempting to retaliate economically against Napier and Fuqua by requesting that their jobs be terminated — at least in Twiggs County. Judge Fowler’s letter can also be easily seen as a threat against Napier and Fuqua should they testify against him in the future.”

Helton, who insists the judge hasn’t done anything wrong by sending the letter, said he doesn’t understand why the JQC would file the emergency motion.

“(Fowler) feels it’s appropriate, while the case is going on, that (different probation officers) be assigned to his court,” Helton said. “He didn’t ask for anyone to be fired or anything like that.”

The letter said Fuqua and Napier could be required to offer additional testimony if the Supreme Court has additional hearings.

Strickland will have 10 days to hold the hearing at a mutually agreed upon location. Once the hearing ends, he will have 10 days to file a report and recommendation with the court.

The motion is just the latest episode between the JQC and Fowler.

The organization has accused Fowler of running a slush fund in the county, mistreating defendants and other misconduct. The commission said Fowler told defendants they had to prove their own innocence.

Fowler, who isn’t an attorney, also didn’t apply proper standards for finding guilt and used unqualified people to serve as interpreters, the JQC said.

Information from The Telegraph’s archives was included in this report.

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.