Bob Norman's Pulp

Judge Bowman's Troublesome Foster Son Story Gets Media Blackout

It's the biggest story at the Broward County Courthouse right now, but if you rely only on the Sun-Sentinel or Miami Herald you haven't heard a word about it.

The story in a nutshell: Broward Circuit Judge John Bowman several years ago took an interest in a young foster child, Charles Harper, who had come before him in family court. They struck up a communication before Bowman took the unprecedented step of bringing the boy, at the age of 11, into his Plantation home in 2003 and eventually became his foster parent. Bowman also began the process with the Department of Children and Families to adopt Foster.

Harper lived in Bowman's house for five years. There are conflicting stories between the two but one thing is clear: It became a disaster and in November 2008, when Harper was 16, Bowman turned the boy back over to the state.

This alone is worth a story and, to be honest, I had that part of it a few months ago. I spoke with a source via JAABlog. I planned to write about it but other things took precedence and it was put on the backburner.

Then in December, Harper, 18, was arrested for stalking the judge. Police reports indicate that Harper called the judge outside his Plantation home and told him to come outside. Instead the police were called and Bowman and his wife Claudette, whom he married in the middle of this saga in 2006, claimed that Harper had threatened their lives in the past and they were afraid for their safety. 

CORRECTED: There was no injunction filed by the judge, though he had complained about the boy to police before. Harper was arrested for stalking the judge.

Shortly after that my NT colleague Stefan Kamph, who broke the story wide open, jumped into this dysfunctional mess and got an earful from both sides. Harper told Kamph stories of

sexual abuse and Bowman said he had been manipulated and threatened by the boy, whom he called a "dirtbag." Among the judge's allegations is that Harper told him he wanted the judge to adopt him and he would then kill him for his inheritance. Bowman also said Harper made sexual threats against his wife. He said Harper was also arrested for felonies and that those records remained sealed because Harper is a juvenile. The judge told Kamph that if he published Harper's version of events he would sue the reporter "into the ground."

Harper went to the Plantation Police Department last week and alleged sexual abuse by the judge. According to the ensuing report, Harper alleged that the judge slept with him in his boxer shorts and that he woke up to the judge fondling him. He claimed that when Bowman punished him, he would make him take off all his clothes and spank his bare bottom. Harper also claimed he found a videotape in the judge's drawer of himself showering.

Harper doesn't have a videotape or any other proof that the abuse took place, though his mother and sister corroborate the story. Bowman steadfastly denies any abuse took place.

Harper was later arrested for violating house arrest on the stalking charge and is now in jail. It's not known what the police have done in their investigation. So far it's been hush-hush on every side and the silence has been especially deafening from the mainstream newspapers.

Is Bowman the victim of his good intentions who is being hounded by a bad seed? Was Harper mistreated in the judge's care? Unfortunately only those two know the truth.

But when a sitting judge takes a troubled child from his courtroom into his home and tries to adopt him, it's a story. When things go wrong and the judge turns the kid back over to the state, it's a story. When the kid is later arrested outside the judge's home for stalking, it's a story. And when the kid alleges to police that the judge abused him, it's a story.

Why aren't they telling any of it?

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman