PRINCETON — A Mercer County magistrate who resigned last week after an investigation into inappropriate comments and text messages was appointed to the bench in 2014 to replace another judge who left amid a scandal of sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct.
Former magistrate Charles Poe resigned Friday in a letter to Mercer County Circuit Judge William Sadler following a probe by the Supreme Court Judicial Investigation Commission (JIC) into alleged “inappropriate sexual, homophobic and racist comments” to a frequent courthouse visitor.
Poe also allegedly made discriminatory comments verbally and by text message, and sent “indecent photos, cartoons and at least one video” by text message, according to a formal JIC admonishment released Friday.
“On certain occasions, when the individual declined to reply to the text messages, Respondent (Poe) would remind (the complainant) that he was a magistrate,” the JIC report declared. “Specifically, respondent would state, ‘Hello I’m talking to you. This is your honor speaking.’ “ The investigation into Poe began Jan. 26 after an ethics complaint was made against him.
The JIC report states Poe admitted the text messages came from him in a sworn statement on March 8.
“The investigation further revealed at least one former judicial employee who suffered the same type of unseemly conduct by respondent (Poe),” the report stated.
••• During its investigation, the JIC found many of Poe’s comments “amounted to harassment of the two individuals.”
The report noted discriminatory actions, expressions of bias and prejudice by a judge can call into question a judge’s integrity and impartiality.
“Discrimination and harassment should be things of the past,” the JIC report stated. “They have no place in today’s society. They do not belong in the courtroom, the boardroom, the classroom, the workplace, or anywhere. Judges must lead by example. Justice is supposed to be blind. Therefore, it is provident for judges to treat all litigants in a courtroom or all persons in a courtyard equally. To do otherwise, casts doubt on the judiciary as a whole.”
The JIC report further noted that there is no place in the judiciary for a judge who does not practice equality for all while both on and off the bench.
“By his actions, respondent (Poe) cast shame on the judiciary as a whole,” the admonishment continued. “Because of his actions, respondent no longer deserves the mantle of judge.”
In an agreement with the JIC, Poe agreed to immediately resign his position and never again seek judicial office in West Virginia by election or appointment.
In his resignation letter to Sadler, Poe stated, “It has been a pleasure working with the court.”
••• Poe, a retired police officer, served as a Mercer County magistrate from 2008 through December 2012. In that year he lost his bid for re-election.
However, in February 2014 Poe was appointed to the position to replace former Magistrate Richard D. “Rick” Fowler who resigned after an investigation into misconduct spurred by a racy Facebook message thread.
Fowler came under scrutiny by the JIC in late 2013 after the sexually explicit messages with a woman who appeared before him in court were posted on the social networking site.
The Daily Telegraph obtained screenshots of the message thread when initially reporting the investigation into Fowler’s conduct. The messages contained graphic sexual banter between Fowler and the woman, and what appeared to be discussion between the two of meeting for a sexual tryst.
The latter part of the message thread contained a post from Fowler that read, “This has to be private. If anyone knew... it would keep me form [sic] being able to help you out with other things in the future. Ok? [sic]” Criminal complaints obtained by the Daily Telegraph show the woman 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 2013 on a domestic assault charge.
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph at that time, Fowler called the public spotlight on the message thread “kind of ridiculous,” adding, “I’m not married, this girl is not married and we goof around and talk on Facebook. We tease and talk crap.”
He also denied having a sexual relationship with the woman, saying she “is not a girlfriend, has never been.”
Fowler was later admonished by the Supreme Court commission who called his behavior while serving on the bench “an embarrassment to the robe.”
Fowler’s “use of his position as a means to satisfy his personal desires was more than foolhardy and humiliating; it was a blatant abuse of power,” the admonishment stated.
The JIC reprimand on Fowler noted that four circumstances of “grave concern” were discovered during the investigation. Two of the incidents involved allegations of sexual harassment, one was a complaint about extrajudicial activity and the fourth involved events with the woman he correspondent with on Facebook.
Fowler was also admonished by the JIC in 2012 for an inappropriate relationship with a woman who was the wife and victim of a man who had appeared before him in court, taking a second job without approval from the Supreme Court and lying to the commission’s investigator.
Two weeks after Fowler’s formal letter of resignation was received in 2014, Poe was sworn in to replace him.
— Contact Samantha Perry at firstname.lastname@example.org