Ex-judge is suspended after secret recording by possible rival candidate revealed threat

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A former judge in Missouri has been suspended for at least two years after he was recorded threatening to reveal the affairs of a rival’s husband if she ran against him in the judicial election.

The Missouri Supreme Court suspended former Macon County, Missouri, Judge Philip E. Prewitt, in a Jan. 31 opinion noted by the Legal Profession Blog.

The Associated Press has coverage.

Soon after the decision, Prewitt resigned from his position as an administrative judge for the Missouri Administrative Hearing Commission, which hears disputes involving state agencies, according to the AP.

Prewitt’s rival had recorded the conversation at the behest of the FBI. The FBI got involved after the rival found an anonymous letter to her daughter in a mailbox in 2018 that “crudely described her husband’s infidelity and named children of the other families involved in the affairs,” according to the Missouri Supreme Court.

Before the letter was found, Prewitt allegedly mentioned the affairs to several people—a church pastor, a former police chief, the city’s mayor—in conversations that were relayed to the rival. She thought that Prewitt intended to use her husband’s conduct against her in any campaign, and she thought that Prewitt was responsible for the letter.

The rival thought that her children did not know about the affairs. She was aware, however, that the children could learn of the affairs because of the ethics case.

In the recorded meeting at a Macon, Missouri, restaurant in early 2018, Prewitt denied knowledge of the letter but said he intended to reveal the affairs.

“I’m going to talk about it in the Lincoln dinner speech,” Prewitt said. “I’m going to talk about how you act like you’re Hillary Clinton protecting that predator. You brought that predator to Macon County. Yes, I am going to talk about it. I didn’t send any letter. If you don’t run, no, I’m not going to talk about it, but if you do, yes, it’s going to be everywhere. I’m sending a letter out on it. … And, remember, I was the attorney on one of the divorces. I had to sit outside and listen to the divorce on the other one. I know a lot of things.”

During the conversation, Prewitt indicated that he was angry because the rival had sent out a mailer in a previous campaign that disputed Prewitt’s judicial campaign claims. The mailer stated: “Prewitt … working to mislead voters.”

“You hit me with a negative ad three days before the election,” Prewitt said regarding the mailer. “You did that. I didn’t. And it was full. You file against me, next day, that goes down to the ethics commission, that [flyer].”

The rival filed an ethics complaint with the judicial ethics commission in March 2018 based on the recorded conversation. The rival also contacted the client Prewitt had referenced and told her about the restaurant conversation. The client also wrote to the commission.

Prewitt acknowledged that he sought to dissuade the rival from opposing him in the election, which he lost in 2018. He said he thought that her husband’s affairs were relevant because she would oversee divorce cases if elected. He also maintained that he learned of his client’s affair with the rival’s husband outside the representation.

Prewitt had maintained that he did not engage in misconduct; that no discipline should be imposed; and that, if there is any discipline, it should not include a suspension. Prewitt also noted his cooperation in the disciplinary process.

The Missouri Supreme Court said Prewitt’s threats violated ethics rules requiring judges to act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the judiciary, that bar judges from abusing the prestige of their office, and that bar conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice. His threats also violated rules on preserving client confidences, the state supreme court said.

Even though Prewitt said he learned of his client’s affair outside the representation, his comments referencing the representation during recorded comments suggested otherwise, the state supreme court said.

“Prewitt knew attempting to coerce [the rival] through the threat of filing the ethics complaint was not acceptable for a lawyer or a judge,” the state supreme court said. “He knew revealing confidential information regarding a former client was impermissible. His actions caused potential injury to his former client and the legal system. Under the ABA Standards, suspension is the appropriate discipline.”

The ABA Journal was unable to reach Prewitt for comment at any phone numbers found online.

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