On Tuesday, January 31, 2023, the Supreme Court of Missouri suspended former Macon County Associate Circuit Judge Philip E. Prewitt for threatening to reveal the affairs of a rival’s husband during a campaign for the associate circuit judge position in Missouri.

The case is entitled “In the Matter of Philip E. Prewitt,” and was brought by the Office of the Disciplinary Counsel with case no. SC99627.

The charges cited Code of Judicial Conduct Rules 2-1.2, 2-1.3, 4-1.9(c), 4-8.4(a), and 4-8.4(d).

The misconduct of the former judge stemmed from four counts: (1) engaging in a text message exchange with a candidate for circuit clerk that threatened Prewitt’s involvement in the circuit clerk’s campaign if she did not remove his opponent’s signs from her yard; (2) maintaining a Facebook account identifying Prewitt as an associate circuit judge through which he made 11 postings encouraging others to attend certain charitable events or make donations to certain charities; (3) criticizing other judges in a Facebook post by stating “unlike many other judges, I am very open about decisions I make in cases because I am proud of the work I do”; and (4) questioning a prosecutor during an arraignment about the strength of a case, advising that he did not want to unnecessarily prevent the defendant from playing football and that the prosecutor should dispose of the case.

The current information that was filed against the respondent contains two counts. Both relate to the respondent’s campaign for associate circuit judge against Burks in the course of the 2018 election. One count encompasses threats made to Burks. The other involves the respondent’s speech at a campaign event.

The filing states:

“At some point prior to the 2018 election, at a prayer event on the grounds of the local courthouse, Prewitt informed Pastor Bray that, if Burks were to run for the associate circuit judge position, it would cause a rift within the church. Pastor Bray was a friend of Burks’ husband. Prewitt provided Pastor Bray with details of Burks’ husband’s infidelity, noting the husband had broken up marriages in town. Pastor Bray relayed information about Prewitt’s comments to Burks’ husband. Prewitt, in his testimony before the disciplinary panel, confirmed it was possible he discussed the affairs with Pastor Bray in passing. When Burks learned of the conversation, she was upset Prewitt was interfering with her family’s church-related life.”

The filing continues:

“In mid-January 2018, Burks was in her private law office with Meisner. Meisner told Burks of a conversation he had with James Talt Holman. According to Meisner,

Prewitt told [Holman] that if [Holman] was going to be talking to anyone that would talk to [Burks] to let them know to let her know that, you know, things were going to come out in this next election that maybe hadn’t before and that the election was going to be a bloodbath.”

Approximately 10 days after her conversation with Meisner, Burks found an anonymous letter in her mailbox addressed to her daughter. The letter crudely described her husband’s infidelity and named children of the other families involved in the affairs, indicating those children and others would demand the daughter explain her father’s behavior. Burks believed Prewitt was responsible for the letter.

Burks contacted the police after the incident, then the FBI came for assistance. The FBI instructed Burks to meet with Prewitt, and the two met at a Macon restaurant. The FBI provided Burks with a small recording device, and the conversation was recorded.

The filing further states;

“KRISTEN BURKS: What do you mean you’re not going to hold back? What does that — what does that – PHILIP

PREWITT: I ran a clean campaign last time. Yes, I’m going to talk about your affair. I’m going to talk about it in the Lincoln dinner speech. T’m going to talk about how you act like you’re Hilary Clinton protecting that predator. You brought that predator to Macon County. Yes, I am going to talk about it. I didn’t send any letters. 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. I’m going to send a flier on it to every household in Macon County. You backed me into a corner. You attacked me. You did [sic] the things. Your name has been on complaints that have been filed against me with the ethics commission.”

Despite all the issues, Burks entered the 2018 election as an independent candidate and she won the election and took office in January 2019. Prewitt did not follow through on publishing advertisements detailing the affairs of Burks’ husband or publicly stating Burks was supporting a predator. He admitted later that one of the reasons why he did not disseminate campaign information discussing the affairs was due to the complaint pending against him with the Judicial Commission.

OCDC argued that a judge’s threat to file an ethics complaint against a lawyer, if and only if that lawyer decides to oppose him in an election, is impermissible. According to the OCDC Prewitt’s intention to file the complaint showed either that he believed Burks’ prior campaign information violated the rules or he meant to harass her with a complaint that did not rise to a rule violation.

In imposing the appropriate discipline, the court considered that the respondent’s acts of misconduct were not negligent. The court stated that the respondent knew revealing confidential information regarding a former client was impermissible and that his actions caused potential injury to his former client and the legal system. The OCDR emphasized that under the ABA standards, suspension is the appropriate discipline.

In light of the factual findings, the court agreed with the OCDC and decided that the appropriate sanction against the respondent is an indefinite suspension.

The Disposition states:

“For the foregoing reasons, this Court orders Prewitt be suspended indefinitely with no leave to apply for reinstatement for two years.”

Judge Prewitt attended Washington University in St. Louis.

Judge Prewitt was a former judge for the 41st Judicial Circuit in Macon County, Missouri located at  101 E Washington St # 1, Macon, MO 63552, and can be reached at +1 660-385-3713. His info can be found on ballotpedia.org

A copy of the original filing can be found here.