The Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance and City Judge Robert Earl Fowlkes had jointly petitioned the Mississippi Supreme Court for a public reprimand. The Supreme Court, in an order Thursday, added a $1,000 fine to Fowlkes’ punishment.
According to court records, Fowlkes argued with the probation officer over whether a man in his courtroom had an outstanding warrant. The argument continued into the clerk’s office where the officer had gone to check on the warrant. He had the probation officer escorted out of the clerk’s office by police.
Records show the man whose presence led to the argument was Fowlkes’ tenant.
The commission and Fowlkes agreed his actions were discourteous to those with whom he deals with as a judge and that it was improper to use his judicial office to advance the private interests of others.
Justice Josiah D. Coleman, writing for the court, said Fowlkes failed to remove himself from the adversarial matter between the probation officer and his tenant.
As the man’s landlord, Coleman said Fowlkes had a vested financial interest in keeping him out of jail.
“His impatience and discourteousness … along with improper threats to hold her in contempt of court, created the appearance that he was influenced by the landlord-tenant relationship and that he was using his office to advance the private interests,” Coleman wrote.
Coleman said the fine was justified because of Fowlkes’ pattern of misconduct. Coleman said Fowlkes had been investigated by the commission twice and sanctioned by the Supreme Court in 2003 for violating rules that prohibit judges from talking in private with litigants to give them legal advice.