LOCAL JUDGE RESIGNS - HALTING INVESTIGATION AND DECEMBER HEARING

by BENJAMIN C. NELSON

(MACON, MISSOURI) Macon County Associate Judge, Philip Prewitt, issued a letter of resignation to the Governor of Missouri. Within the letter, Judge Prewitt stated that he lost his re-election, his term is scheduled to end on December 31st, and "I hereby resign my office effective December 10th, 2018, at 5 P.M." The Home Press acquired Judge Prewitt's letter of resignation through the Governor's Office early Thursday Morning.

On October 20th, 2018 The Home Press reported on an investigation that the Commission on Retirement, Removal, and Discipline was conducting on Judge Philip Prewitt. Due to confidentiality, the commission could not release any specifics of the investigation or even acknowledge that an investigation was taking place. Through subpoenas handed over to the paper by several sources, the subpoenas themselves confirmed that an investigation was taking place and that a hearing was set to take place on December 12th, 2018 in Macon, Missouri. The paper confirmed through six sources, that the subpoenas existed, including two individuals who lived outside of Macon County. Supreme Court Rule 12 outlines the process that the Commission named above goes through after a complaint. A formal proceeding (hearing) takes place after four or more members on the six person commission find probable cause (after an investigation) that the person being investigated, is guilty. Also reported was an article from the St. Louis Public Radio (owned by the University of Missouri) stating that since the late 1990's close to 85% of judicial complaints made to the commission named above, are dismissed without investigation; as well as, since the late 90's up until 2014, only four judges statewide have been formally reprimanded by the Missouri Supreme Court. Previously, aside from the current investigation, Judge Prewitt was reprimanded by the Missouri Supreme Court on four counts of judicial misconduct in 2015 and was found in violation of state statutes in two counts by the Missouri Ethics Commission in 2016.

On November 6th, Judge Philip lost re-election to Kristen Burks by 297 votes county wide. With that election defeat, Prewitt was set to end his term on December 31st and Burks is set to take the oath on January 1st, 2019. With the recent resignation by Judge Prewitt, he will be leaving office at 5 P.M. on December 10th, a little less than 48 hours before the scheduled hearing that was to take place regarding the current investigation of the judge himself. We reached out to the administrator of the commission named above, Mr. James Smith, inquiring what will happen to the current investigation/hearing since Prewitt has issued a resignation prior to the date of the hearing. The commission named above only has jurisdiction over Missouri judges that are currently sitting on the bench. Considering that Judge Prewitt is now leaving office through a resignation prior to the hearing in December, he will no longer be in the jurisdiction of the state commission that is currently investigating him. One source to the paper stated that they were contacted and told that the investigation has been canceled and the subpoenas dropped in-light of the resignation. The following was a statement from Mr. Smith: "If there even was an investigation, in general, the commission loses jurisdiction if a judge is no longer on the bench, but if a judge once again becomes a judge, then prior acts of misconduct may once again be investigated." The commission named above and the Supreme Court, also has control over the retirement of a judge. According to documents put out by the Washington Law School in St. Louis, if the commission and/or the Supreme Court decides to forcefully retire a judge, that judge receives 1/2 of his salary until the term ends and then 1/3 of his salary for retirement - in some cases, nothing if applicable. The Supreme Court of Missouri also has power to revoke the law license of person(s) within the state if applicable. Without jurisdiction over a judge, the commission cannot continue the investigation or furthermore, refer any findings and conclusions to the Supreme Court in which the court would decide what actions to take.

It's important to note that paperwork regarding any investigation becomes public only if the matter is referred to the Missouri Supreme Court. If the matter does not make it to the Supreme Court, all paperwork is officially sealed and subject to destruction in 10 years unless objected to by the commission.

We reached out to Judge Prewitt and asked several questions. The questions and his answers are as follows:

1. Why did you resign? What is next?

Prewitt's Answer: "Ben, I resigned effective December 10th because I lost the election and my term is about over. It was not worth the $10,000 to $15,000 in attorney's fees I would have to spend for me to stay in office 21 more days to have a hearing that would change nothing. I still would not be a judge at the end of the month because of the lost election. That money can be put to better use by me in other, more beneficial ways for my future. As for what that future will be specifically, I do not know yet. Stay tuned."

2. A lot of comments have been made on social media claiming the current investigation was "trumped up" only to sway an election. People had a lot of questions about specifics, etc. With your resignation, we will not get to see this through. Is that being unfair to the public, by resigning? What do you have to say to those who will claim you are intentionally avoiding/dodging the hearing, investigation, and anything that comes of it?

Prewitt's Answer: He did not address this question.