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UPDATE: Controversial Putnam County Judge Suspended

By: Brooks Jarosz, Anna Baxter; The Associated Press Email
By: Brooks Jarosz, Anna Baxter; The Associated Press Email

UPDATE 3/26/13 @ 3:45 p.m.
PUTNAM COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A controversial family court judge is off the bench for good.

The state Supreme Court ruled Tuesday afternoon to suspend Judge William Watkins until the end of his term in December 2016.

Watkins was caught on tape screaming and cursing at people in his courtroom. He was also suspended for delaying rulings and failing to file domestic violence orders.

Judge Deloris Nibert will continue to serve as an interim replacement for Watkins, according to an administrative order from the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 2/5/13 @ 1:20 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- A West Virginia judge alleges an ethics panel is illegally trying to remove him from office.

The Judicial Hearing Board asked the Supreme Court to suspend Putnam County Family Court Judge William Watkins for the rest of his term Tuesday. But Watkins' lawyer argued that he must be impeached before he can removed.

Lawyer Robert Martin said the board lacks the power to impeach but is attempting as much by recommending the multi-year suspension.

Watkins is accused of delaying rulings, failing to file domestic violence orders properly and screaming and cursing at litigants. That prompted the board to recommend consecutive one-year suspensions until his term ends after December 2016.

A board lawyer said the evidence clearly supports the allegations.

Lawyer Rachel Fletcher Cipoletti said consecutive suspension terms are also allowed.



UPDATE 2/5/13 @ 9:47 a.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A family court judge from Putnam County accused of judicial misconduct will have his case heard before the West Virginia Supreme Court.

Oral arguments in the case against Judge William Watkins III, will get underway Tuesday morning in Charleston.

Watkins faces several charges from the Judicial Investigation Commission. He is accused of delaying rulings, failing to enter domestic violence orders into the state's tracking system and screaming at those who appeared in his courtroom.

The state Supreme Court will be considering the recommendation from the state Judicial Hearing Board that Watkins be suspended, without pay, until the end of his term in 2016.

Watkins took a medical leave in early January 2013. Watkins has been on the bench since 2002.

We have a crew in the courtroom. Keep clicking WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 1/4/13 @ 5:52 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- A family court judge caught on camera screaming at people in his courtroom is now taking a leave of absence.

Judge William Watkins sent the State Supreme Court a letter late Friday afternoon telling them he was going on medical leave.

Watkins says he has health problems and his doctor ordered him to take some time off of work.

Judge Deloris Nibert will fill in for Watkins until he returns.

The State Supreme Court is considering disciplinary proceedings against him.

The State Judicial Commission says not only did he scream and curse in his courtroom, he also delayed rulings and failed to file domestic violence orders.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 1/3/13 @ 2:25 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- A Putnam County Family Court judge accused of judicial misconduct has lost a bid to delay disciplinary proceedings against him.

The Associated Press reports that the state Supreme Court denied Family Court Judge William Watkins' request on Thursday.

The justices will hear Watkins' case Feb. 5.

Watkins' lawyer, Robert Martin, filed a motion earlier this week asking the court to delay the proceedings. Martin said Watkins has filed for disability and plans to retire.

The state Judicial Investigation Commission alleges that Watkins delayed rulings, failed to enter domestic violence orders into the state's tracking system and screamed and cursed at litigants.

The Judicial Hearing Board recommended that Watkins be suspended without pay until his term ends on Dec. 31, 2016.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 1/3/12 @ 8:45 a.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- A Putnam County Family Court judge accused of judicial misconduct is asking the state Supreme Court to delay disciplinary proceedings against him.

Judge William Watkins' attorney, Robert Martin, says in court documents that Watkins has applied for disability and plans to retire. Martin asked the court to give Watkins 30 days while his disability application is processed before it makes any decision.

The state Judicial Investigation Commission alleges that Watkins delayed rulings, failed to enter domestic violence orders into the state's tracking system and screamed and cursed at litigants.

The Judicial Hearing Board recommended that Watkins be suspended without pay until his term ends on Dec. 31, 2016.

Martin asked the court to dismiss the complaints.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 12/4/12 @ 4:09 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- The Judicial Hearing Board is recommending that a Putnam County family court judge be suspended without pay until his term ends on Dec. 31, 2016.

In an order filed Monday, the board also says Williams Watkins should be censured for each of 24 violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

Watkins admitted during a Nov. 27 hearing before the board that he delayed rulings, failed to enter domestic violence orders into the state's tracking system and screamed and cursed at litigants.

The board rejected a proposed 90-day suspension without pay that would be stayed while Watkins addresses deficiencies and undergoes counseling and judicial training. It cites the number of violations and Watkins' "apparent failure to take meaningful responsibility for his misconduct."

The state Supreme Court will make the final decision.



UPDATE 11/27/12 @ 7:15 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A family court judge accused of misconduct faced the West Virginia Judicial Hearing Board vowing to improve his conduct in the courtroom.

Putnam Family Court Judge William Watkins admitted to the allegations found after a lengthy investigation by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.

Five complaints were filed against Watkins accusing him of failing to act on cases, harassment, and not entering domestic violence orders promptly.

Watkins faced the other side of the bench Tuesday and took to the stand apologizing and admitting he has made mistakes.

"I think in my 10 years, I've done an outstanding job but I acknowledge that I've also made mistakes," Watkins said. "I'd like to have the opportunity to correct those mistakes and prove that I can be an even better judge for Putnam County."

Watkins says he wants to remain the family court judge for Putnam County. He says he has already corrected procedures in his office, including how domestic violence orders are entered and communication between the staff and those people who appear before Watkins.

Specific cases were brought up in the courtroom Wednesday, including one that gained national media attention. YouTube videos from inside the family courtroom shows a pastor getting yelled at by Watkins.

"That was very unprofessional on my part and I'd like to get the tools I need to better cope with the situation like that that's going to arise," Watkins said. "The fact of the matter is there's no more stressful job than a family court judge."

In another case, a man who lost his leg and had a slew of medical conditions explained how he felt violated, victimized and degraded after failing to pay child support.

"Stay the heck off the bench because you're not a judge and never will be a judge," Bob Harper said. "Not with your attitude."

Watkins told the court he is sorry and mentioned he started counseling to deal with anger and stress.

"I need to deal with all the cases in a professional manner and I can't use the excuse that one or two are beyond the pail," Watkins said.

Complainant Mark Halburn also spoke out in court, saying Watkins should have recused himself from he and his ex-wife's divorce case when he was representing her in another matter.

"You don't belong on the bench," Halburn said. "You don't have the personal and professional integrity to be a judge."

The judicial board will release an official opinion of what actions should be taken. The suggestion is supervision for 90 days. If any misconduct occurs, Watkins could face suspension without pay for 90 days. He would also have to pay nearly $18,000 in investigation costs. Finally, seek counseling and attend six hours of additional judicial training focus on domestic violence.

"This isn't going to change -- I'd give him less than six months and there will be someone filing charges against him again," Harper said.

Watkins says he thinks the proposed punishment is fair.

"I regret my actions," Watkins said.

The board will now present its recommendations to the West Virginia Supreme Court. Justices will either accept, reject or modify the recommendations.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 11/27/12 @ 11:15 a.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A Putnam County family court judge apologized for his recent conduct in the courtroom, but he's still facing punishment for charges he violated the Judicial Code of Conduct.

The Judicial Investigation Commission filed the charges against Judge William Watkins in July and August.

During a hearing Tuesday, the West Virginia Judicial Hearing Board released its recommendations for discipline in this case.

Watkins is accused of failing to enter a final order in one case, despite repeated mandates. But Watkins says with the sheer amount of cases involving children and domestic violence, a divorce with legal disputes between parties is not as high on the priority list.

Watkins is also accused of failing to meet time standards and demonstrating a pattern of failing to uphold high standards of conduct and integrity.

One of the major allegations says Watkins refused to update the domestic violence registry.

On Tuesday, the board recommended Watkins stay on the bench, but not without being monitored and supervised for 90 days. If Watkins breaches the code of conduct or fails to cooperate he would automatically be suspended for 90 days without pay.

The board also recommended Watkins attends counseling one time per week and six hours judicial training in domestic violence. He would also be required to pay $17,759.21 in court costs.

The board will now present its recommendations to the West Virginia Supreme Court. Justices will either accept, reject or modify the recommendations.

Watkins has also been in trouble for his behavior on the bench.

This year, five people filed complaints with the West Virginia Supreme Court about Watkins' behavior. Watkins has received a list of charges for all five.

Those who filed the complaints say the judge yelled, cursed and treated them unfairly in court; violating several guidelines in the judicial code of conduct.

The people who filed complaints against Watkins attended Tuesday's hearing.

The board addressed Watkins about the behavioral complaints and he apologized for his actions and said he knows he should not act like that.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 10/11/12 @ 9:48 a.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- A Putnam County family court judge is denying charges that he violated the Judicial Code of Conduct.

William Watkins admits in a response to the charges that he cursed and shouted at people from the bench. But he says his behavior doesn't show a pattern of failing to uphold high standards of conduct and integrity.

Watkins also denies charges that he failed to rule on motions and failed to enter domestic violence orders into the state's tracking system.

The Judicial Investigation Commission filed the charges in July and August.

The Associated Press says Watkins filed his response Wednesday. He asked the Judicial Hearing Board to dismiss the charges.

The board will hold a hearing on the charges Nov. 27.



UPDATE 9/7/12 @ 3:12 p.m.
PUTNAM COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A Putnam County Family Court Judge has responded to charges issued by the State Supreme Court.

Again, Watkins' response filed Friday, denied any wrong doing. He also demands a strict proof of the allegations.

Watkins is accused of failing to enter a final order in one case, despite repeated mandates. But Watkins says with the sheer amount of cases involving children and domestic violence, a divorce with legal disputes between parties is not as high on the priority list.

The West Virginia Supreme Court says it filed the complaint after it says Watkins failed to meet time standards. One of the major allegations says Watkins refused to update the domestic violence registry.

In a recent interview, Watkins said there's not enough time or the resources in order to keep the registry up to date daily.

Watkins has faced criticism before, especially after videos surfaced on YouTube of the judge yelling and screaming during a divorce hearing involving a pastor and his wife. It wasn't until Thursday that Watkins was charged in connection with his conduct in the courtroom.

Meanwhile, earlier this week the Supreme Court voted on whether to suspend Judge Watkins without pay. The vote was 3 to 2, with Justice Davis and Justice Workman voting to suspend him. The other judges did not.

Judge Watkins will remain on the job.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 9/6/12 @ 6:50 p.m.
PUTNAM COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A family court judge who made controversial headlines already this year is now facing even more trouble.

Judge William Watkins has been served with two different lists of charges in the past month.

Five people filed complaints with the West Virginia Supreme Court about Watkins' behavior. He received a list of charges for all five, Tuesday.

Those who filed the complaints say the judge yelled, cursed and treated them unfairly in court; violating several guidelines in the judicial code of conduct.

This comes about a month after Watkins was served with other charges dealing with his docket and deadlines.

It was then he told WSAZ.com he was embarrassed by his behavior.

“I don't like to get angry and yell at people,” Watkins said. “It's generally not proper.”

As the judicial hearing board looks at those complaints, even more are being filed.

“You get out of that situation then you're abused more by the system, the legal system, than you were in your relationship originally,” Margaret Farmer said.

Farmer stopped by WSAZ on her way to file yet another complaint against Judge Watkins. She says her divorce became final before it was supposed to, and that mistakes were made.

“I was given no opportunity whatsoever to be able to advocate for myself. He just signed off on that order, and there it was. It became gospel,” Farmer said.

Watkins’ attorney, Andy McQueen, is out of town, but says when he has a chance to look over the most recent list of charges -- he will file an answer with the judicial commission, and will answer directly and honestly.

Judge Watkins has 30 days to respond to the charges.

Meanwhile, earlier this week the Supreme Court voted on whether to suspend Judge Watkins without pay. The vote was 3-2, with Justice Davis and Justice Workman voting to suspend him. The other judges did not.

Judge Watkins will remain on the job.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 8/13/12 @ 6:40 p.m.
PUTNAM COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A family judge from Putnam County accused of serious ethics violations says he's shocked and disturbed that the State Supreme Court filed charges against him.

Judge William Watkins III is defending his job and his record. He says calling him unethical is just factually incorrect.

"I was just absolutely speechless," Watkins said. "I felt like my world was crashing down. I've never been found guilty of any ethical violation in my life."

Watkins says Putnam County has one of the biggest caseloads in West Virginia with roughly 2,500 family court cases every year.

Watkins has faced criticism before, especially after videos surfaced on YouTube of the judge yelling and screaming during a divorce hearing involving a pastor and his wife.

"I'm embarrassed," Watkins said. "I don't like to get angry and yell at people; it's generally not proper."

However, the charges aren't about his conduct in the courtroom but instead his docket and deadlines.

Despite repeated mandates, Watkins is accused of failing to enter a final order in one case. But Watkins says with the sheer amount of cases involving children and domestic violence, a divorce with legal disputes between parties is not as high on the priority list.

The West Virginia Supreme Court says it filed the complaint after it says Watkins failed to meet time standards. One of the major allegations says Watkins refused to update the domestic violence registry.

Watkins tells WSAZ.com there's not enough time or the resources in order to keep the registry up to date daily.

"We try to comply with every time standard there is, but there are some time standards that are just impossible to comply with," Watkins said. "We try, we try our best, and are we perfect? Absolutely not."

Watkins plans on responding to the charges and says he has proof in emails, documents and cases that show he's followed the rules.

"It's just the harshest thing you could say," Watkins said. "You might as well say I kicked my dog or something."

The Supreme Court maintains he's ignored the Circuit Court's orders in the past and is not following the Judicial Code of Conduct.

An investigative report will be presented to the Judicial Hearing Board to decide what recommendations for punishment, if any, Watkins should face.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 8/10/12 @ 4 p.m.
PUTNAM COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A Putnam County Judge is facing charges after at least two incidents where investigators say he didn’t fulfill his duty.

William Watkins III, Putnam County Family Court Judge, has been making headlines for several weeks after he was caught on tape verbally attacking several people in his courtroom.

Court records indicate there were at least nine formal complaints filed against Judge Watkins’ conduct in the courtroom. However, Watkins has never received prior discipline. He has also never received an admonishment and never received a statement of charges until now.

On Friday, the State Supreme Court of Appeals served formal charges against Watkins.

Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury filed an extraordinary complaint against Watkins alleging he violated the Judicial Code of Conduct and trial court rules.

"This is absolutely egregious, it's a judge not doing what he's ordered to do by a court that has the authority to do so," Canterbury said. "This was a really unfortunate act not only that he was out of the time standard but that he just ignored and now claims in fact that the circuit court has no authority in this matter."

In one case, investigators say Watkins failed to make a ruling on a divorce case following repeated attempts by the court after three court mandates by a circuit court judge and one by the Supreme Court, Watkins finally ruled after being threatened of being held in contempt.

The Supreme Court of Appeals says Judge Watkins violated several canons of the Judicial Code of Conduct.

According to court records, Judge Watkins responded to the charges by saying he did not commit a violation of the judicial canons, saying “He [circuit judge] has no jurisdiction to run my docket. When the Supreme Court directed me to act, I did so within 24 hours. Finally, the only problem on this case was two lawyers who could not follow clear instructions from the Court.”

In the second count against Watkins, the high court claims he failed to regularly update the Domestic Violence Protective Order Registry.

In at least two cases listed in court records, it was days, weeks or months before his office uploaded the final protective orders to the registry.

According to the charges filed Friday, Putnam County 911 reported they often receive these orders several days late from the Putnam County Family Court.

In the past, Watkins’ has complained his office doesn’t have time to deal with uploading the orders. The court offered additional training, but according to the investigation Watkins and his staff still didn’t follow procedure.

"There are time standards and they are to meet those time standards and he was well out of the time standard," Canterbury said. “That goes back to leadership -- he wasn't forcing their hand to say you know this isn't an option you must do so."

An example listed in the charges involves Lillian Hage, the wife of a pastor who filed a lawsuit against Watkins for verbally attacking him during a court hearing. That lawsuit was later thrown out by a judge.

According to court records, Watkins issued a protective order for Lillian Hage, but a permanent order was never entered on the registry.

The charges filed on Friday were originally issued on July 31, but the high court could not serve them until now. Watkins indicated in a fax that he had been on vacation from July 20 until August 6.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 7/3/12 @ 2:10 p.m.
PUTNAM COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The State Supreme Court says they are no longer looking into an incident where a family law judge is heard screaming at a pastor in his courtroom.

Back in May, Judge William Watkins was caught on tape verbally attacking Pastor Arthur Hage.

The supreme court says Watkins has recused himself from the case and admitted he over reacted.

Watkins say he was upset over an article that appeared in a news blog and accused Hage of leaking it to the blogger.

Hage denies those allegations.



ORIGINAL STORY
PUTNAM COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A family law judge from Putnam County was caught on camera in an angry courtroom outburst screaming and yelling at a pastor.

A online video surfaced on YouTube this week where Putnam family law Judge William Watkins is heard attacking preacher Arthur Hage.

"Mr. Hage if you say one word out of turn you're going to jail, do you understand me?" William Watkins said. "Shut up! Don't even speak. My wife is disabled -- she's there alone. And you, you disgusting piece of..."

The Hages were originally in court for a divorce hearing regarding the sale of their home.

Watkins was upset over an article posted on a news blog. He says he felt threatened after a picture of his home appeared online and accused Hage of leaking it to the blogger.

"You are responsible -- I'm holding you personally responsible for anything that happens at my house," Watkins said. "My house has been vandalized four times. You realize that of course because I'm sure you're probably in on it laughing about it."

Hage, who's been a preacher for decades, denied ever having a relationship with the blogger or even knowing where Watkins lives. Now, Hage says he wants to see Watkins removed from the bench.

"I don't understand where he's getting all this stuff, I don't understand him," Hage said. "You don't treat people like this. This is not right."

Watkins wouldn't go on camera but tells WSAZ.com he was angry and thought Hage crossed the line both in his case and in a county courtroom.

"You're supposed to be a man of God, how do you come in here and swear to God and the very first thing out of your mouth is a lie?" Watkins said. "It's a lie, it's a damn lie and you know it's a damn lie."

"It's not right for any human being to be treated like this," Hage said. "You feel as you sit there you can't speak -- he won't let you, like you're in communist China."

Judge Watkins says he's recused himself from the case. Despite the repeated threats heard in the video to send Hage to jail, Watkins says he is not out to get him.

Hage has appealed his original divorce case to the Supreme Court.

Watkin's conduct is being reviewed by the supreme court administrator but details are not being released.

Keep clicking WSAZ.com for the latest information.


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