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Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance v. Fowlkes

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

September 19, 2013

MISSISSIPPI COMMISSION ON JUDICIAL PERFORMANCE
v.
ROBERT EARL FOWLKES

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 05/01/2013

MISSISSIPPI COMMISSION ON JUDICIAL PERFORMANCE HON. H. DAVID CLARK, II

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: JOHN B. TONEY

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: ROBERT EARL FOWLKES.

COLEMAN, JUSTICE.

¶1. The Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance (the "Commission") filed a formal complaint against Municipal Court Judge Robert Earl Fowlkes regarding a verbal altercation he had with a probation officer outside the courtroom. The Commission and Judge Fowlkes have filed a joint motion asking the Court to approve agreed-upon sanctions of a public reprimand and costs of $200. We agree that Judge Fowlkes should be publicly reprimanded and assessed $200 for the costs of proceedings, and we find that he also should be fined $1, 000.

Facts and Procedural History

¶2. On February 22, 2012, Judge Fowlkes presided over municipal court in the City of Aberdeen. Wylie Blanchard was present in the courtroom with his girlfriend, who was a litigant before Judge Fowlkes. Judge Fowlkes was Blanchard's landlord at the time. Probation Officer Carolyn Gunn was also in attendance. Gunn believed there was an outstanding arrest warrant against Blanchard and, after court adjourned, she spoke to him about it. Blanchard complained to Judge Fowlkes that Gunn was going to put him in jail. Judge Fowlkes told Gunn that she did not have authority to arrest Blanchard, and Gunn explained that she would not be the one to arrest Blanchard but that she thought he had an outstanding warrant against him. A loud argument ensued between Judge Fowlkes and Gunn. Gunn turned away to determine if the clerk's office had a copy of the warrant, and Judge Fowlkes told Gunn not to walk away while he was talking to her. Judge Fowlkes repeated that instruction after following Gunn into the clerk's office, then threatened to hold her in contempt of court. Gunn replied that she could not be arrested for contempt of court, because they were not in the courtroom and Judge Fowlkes had adjourned court. Judge Fowlkes told Gunn to shut up and get out, and he had two police officers escort her from the clerk's office.

¶3. On September 25, 2012, the Commission filed a formal complaint against Judge Fowlkes, charging him with violating Canons 1, 2A, 2B, 3B(2), 3B(4), and 3C(1) of the Code of Judicial Conduct and Section 177A of the Mississippi Constitution. Judge Fowlkes responded that he did not think his "actions were bringing any integrity problems or reflecting on his judgship." He claimed that there had been no yelling and that he had not threatened Gunn, and he suggested that Gunn had been "out of order" for "blow[ing] up on" him. By February 14, 2013, Judge Fowlkes and the Commission had come to an agreement on the facts of the dispute and recommendations for sanctions. In lieu of an evidentiary hearing, Judge Fowlkes and counsel for the Commission submitted an Agreed Statement of Facts and Proposed Recommendation. Judge Fowlkes admitted that it was improper to "(1) use his judicial office to advance the private interests of others, (2) misuse his contempt power, and (3) be impatient and discourteous to those with whom he deals with in his official capacity." He agreed that such impropriety constituted willful misconduct in office and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute, which violated the Code of Judicial Conduct. The Commission and Judge Fowlkes filed a Joint Motion for Approval of Recommendations with the Court on June 7, 2013, recommending that Judge Fowlkes be publicly reprimanded and assessed costs of $200.

Discussion

¶4. In a judicial performance case, the Court is required to conduct an independent review of the entire record and, while we give deference and consideration to the Commission's findings of fact and recommendations, the "final determination of the appropriate action to be taken" belongs to the Court and w e are not bound by the Com mission's recommendations. Miss. Comm'n on Judicial Performance v. Boone, 60 So.3d 172, 176-77 (¶¶ 8-9) (Miss. 2011) (internal citations omitted).

¶5. Pursuant to Article 6, Section 177A of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890, as amended, judges in Mississippi may be fined, publicly censured or reprimanded, suspended, or removed from office by the Mississippi Supreme Court upon recommendation from the Commission. Of the five grounds for which a judge may be sanctioned, the two most relevant to the instant case are willful misconduct in office and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice which brings the judicial office into disrepute. See Miss . Const. Art. 6, § 177A(b), (e) (1890). We have said:

Willful misconduct in office is the improper or wrongful use of power of his office by a judge acting intentionally, or with gross unconcern for his conduct and generally in bad faith. . . . A specific intent to use the powers of the judicial office to accomplish a purpose which the judge knew or should have known was beyond the legitimate exercise of his authority constitutes bad faith.

Miss. Comm'n on Judicial Performance v. Hartzog, 32 So.3d 1188, 1193 (¶ 12) (Miss. 2010) (quoting Miss. Comm'n on Judicial Performance v. Sanford, 941 So.2d 209, 212-13 (ΒΆ 7) (Miss. 2006)). We have held that actual willfulness is not always required, as a judge's "negligence or ignorance not amounting to bad faith" can have the same effect of being prejudicial to the administration of justice and bringing the judicial office into ...


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