Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

Judge whose angry rant was caught in YouTube clip is suspended for nearly 4 years

William M. Watkins, III

Arthur Hage, Yelled At By Judge William Watkins, Says ‘It’s Not Over’

The court found 24 violations of nine Canons of Judicial Conduct.

William M. Watkins, III was a family court judge for the Twenty-Sixth Family Circuit in Putnam County, West Virginia. He began serving as a judge in 2002.[1]   Beginning on January 4, 2013, Watkins took a medical leave of absence.  Subsequently, on March 26, 2013, Watkins was suspended from the court without pay through the duration of his current term, which would have expired at the end of 2016.[2] On November 30, 2013, Watkins officially resigned from the bench. CITED It sounds like the beginning of a joke – A pastor walks into court seeking to settle a divorce wrangle with his wife….

But when this actually happened in West Virginia it ended up far from funny with the judge launching an incredible verbal attack on the pastor. Judge William Watkins spewed the vicious tirade against Arthur Hage, screaming that he’d send him to jail, on May 23 during a hearing where the pastor and his estranged wife were seeking to settle a discrepancy over the sale of their home. The verbal mauling, which goes on for several minutes, was all caught on camera. The alarming footage shows Watkins begin attacking Hage, 63, from the moment the hearing begins.

‘Mr. Hage, if you say one word out of turn, you’re going to jail. Do you understand me?’ Watkins said. ‘Shut up! Don’t even speak. You disgusting piece of …’ He trails off. Footage shows Hage sitting quietly, seemingly showing no emotion, as Watkins continues to vent his fury. Watkins was enraged over an article posted on, which includes a picture of the Judge’s home. He accuses Hage of speaking to the reporter who wrote the article, and holds the pastor responsible for publishing the photo of his home. ‘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.’ The article, which does not mention anything about Hage, is about a homeowners’ association letter that lists Watkins as ‘not in good standing.’ The article also published a letter Watkins allegedly sent the reporter when asked for a comment about the homeowners’ allegations.

Watkins writes to the reporter:

‘Every other witness describes you as rude, obnoxious, loud and generally acting like the south end of a north-bound horse. I choose to believe them.’ After being on the receiving end of Watkins’ rage, Hage filed a complaint against the judge with the state Judicial Investigation Commission, reported the Huffington Post. Last month, Watkins confessed to overreacting and recused himself from the case. Supreme Court administrator Steve Canterbury told the Charleston Gazette, ‘

Judges are humans; they can lose their temper. Ideally, he would’ve called a recess, regained his composure and come back even-tempered and he didn’t.’ Although the Supreme Court stopped looking into the incident last month, Hage is not ready to move on. ‘It’s not a done deal. It’s not over. It’s still going on,’ Hage told the Huffington Post. He lamented the fact that he cannot legally sue a judge but claims to have a different means of bringing the judge to justice. A video of the incident has been seen more than 137,000 times since it was uploaded to YouTube on June 26. cited 

Judge whose angry rant was caught in YouTube clip is suspended for nearly 4 years


An admittedly intemperate family court judge has been suspended without pay for the remaining years of his term by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

In one angry rant from the bench that has been viewed on YouTube more than 200,000 times, Putnam County Circuit Court Family Law Judge William M. Watkins III repeatedly told a pastor appearing before him to “shut up.” And this was far from the only time he spoke to parties using inappropriate language, according to the opinion (PDF) filed Tuesday by the supreme court.

In one hearing, the opinion says, when speaking to a woman who was seeking an order of protection against her then-husband in a domestic violence case, Watkins blamed the woman for “shooting off your fat mouth about what happened,” told her to “Shut up!” and then continued:

“Shut up! You stupid woman. Can’t even act properly. One more word out of you that you aren’t asked a question you’re out of here, and you will be found in direct contempt of court and I will fine you appropriately. So, shut your mouth.You know I hate it when people are just acting out of sheer spite and stupidity.”

The court also criticized Watkins for failing to make timely rulings, failing to comply with court orders to do so and failing to see that his staff timely completed required tasks, such as entering protective orders into the state’s domestic violence registry.

The Charleston Gazette says Watkins did not respond to a Tuesday phone call seeking comment and notes that the court entered an order that retains Deloris Nibert, a former Mason County family court judge who was appointed by the court in December to handle Watkins’ caseload after he took an emergency medical leave.

Watkins did not contest the conduct cited by a hearing board of the Judicial Investigation Commission when it recommended that he be suspended without pay for the remainder of his term in office, which concludes on Dec. 31, 2016.

However, he argued that the sanction amounted to removal from office, which the state constitution allows only the West Virginia legislature to do, by impeachment. Hence, the judge said, the supreme court didn’t have the power to suspend him for the rest of his term.

The court disagreed, distinguishing impeachment, which would also have stripped Watkins of his pension and prohibited him from serving in office again, from a suspension and saying that public policy requires that the court use its inherent powers to protect lawyers and litigants from a judge who is unable or unwilling to do his job properly.

It also censured Watkins for 24 violations of nine canons of the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct, which are printed in full in the opinion.

“Socrates said, ‘Four things belong to a judge: to hear courteously, to answer wisely, to consider soberly, and to decide impartially,’” the court wrote. “We recognize that regulating the demeanor of a judge is a difficult task, because judges are human and may occasionally display anger or annoyance, and lawyers and litigants sometimes incite judges. Judges must also be allowed some flexibility in criticizing the performance of lawyers who appear before them. But a judge owes a duty to treat lawyers and litigants courteously, to hear them patiently, to study their arguments and evidence conscientiously, and to decide their cases promptly.”

In a concurring opinion (PDF), Chief Justice Brent Benjamin agreed that Watkins should be suspended without pay for the rest of his term but disagreed about the manner in which the court imposed this sanction.

Instead of using inherent judicial powers, which opens the door to potential misuse in the future for political reasons, the court should have simply imposed consecutively the one-year suspensions it is clearly authorized to impose under the state constitution, he wrote.

“While I have the utmost respect for my colleagues and the professionalism of our current court and share their belief that the admittedly harsh sanction in this case is fully justified, I fear how a highly partisan or polarized future court might misuse this expansive new precedent.” cited

Video shows family judge yelling at pastor

By Lawrence Smith cited

WINFIELD – A Putnam County pastor is accusing a family law judge of being “out-of-control” and has released video evidence to prove it.

The Rev. Arthur D. Hage on June 4 filed an ethics complaint against Putnam Family Law Judge William M. “Chip” Watkins III with the Judicial Investigation Commission, the arm of the state Supreme Court that investigates misconduct committed by judicial officers.

In his complaint, Hage, 63, alleges that Watkins, 58, treated him “like a criminal” when he “yelled and screamed at me” during two hearings in May in the pending divorce from his estranged wife, Lillian.

Click here to watch the video.

To bolster his complaint against Watkins, Hage on June 26 delivered to JIC a copy of the videotaped transcript of the May 23 hearing after making repeated phone calls during the last month to Watkins’ office, the Putnam Circuit Clerk’s Office and the Court. The tape, which Hage also released to several media outlets, including The West Virginia Record, shows Watkins unleashing a tirade on Hage during most of the 10-minute hearing accusing him of being behind a news website’s article about Watkins and his wife being delinquent on paying their homeowner’s association dues.

A three-minute tirade

The purpose of the May 23 hearing was to discuss appointment of a special commissioner to sell the Hages marital home in Hurricane. Previously, Arthur refused to sign the deed citing how portions of the home had mold and were termite-infested and would be against his conscience to sell it to someone else.

Shortly after the hearing started, Watkins, calmly, said, “Mr. Hage, if you say one word out of turn, you’re going to jail. Do you understand me?”

To which Hage replied, “Yes.”

Then, Watkins berated Hage for speaking to a reporter following the previous day’s hearing. On May 22, Watkins heard a motion made by Lillian’s attorney, Christine Wallace with Legal Aid of West Virginia, that Arthur be held in contempt for speaking with third parties about Lillian’s mental health in violation of the “permanent” protective order Watkins included in their final divorce order.

After that, Watkins accused Hage of being responsible for an article that appeared later that day on a Putnam County news site regarding Watkins and his wife, Rhonda, receiving a letter in the Fall from their homeowner’s association in Brierwood Estates in Teays Valley about them “not being in good standing” with their annual fees. The article included a picture of the Watkins’ house.

When Hage attempted to say something, Watkins screamed, “Shut up! Did I tell you to speak?”

“You put up a picture of my house,” he continued. “Because of you, my wife is there alone, and my house has been vandalized four times. You realize that, of course, as I’m sure you’re probably in on it and laughing about it.”

Then, Watkins says “You, you disgusting piece of …” and pauses for a moment. Upon resuming his tirade, Watkins points his left hand at Hage and says, “I swear to you. You’re responsible. I’m holding you personably responsible for anything that happens to my house.”

“I promise you that if see so much as anyone blanketing my home, my wife, my family, you and me are going to have a problem. …

“Well, buddy, it’s personal. It’s personal, and I can promise you, you will not hear the end of if from me.”

For a moment, Watkins took a breath and started to recuse himself from the hearing. However, he stopped in mid sentence only to say, “I’m too angry to even be appropriate in this case.”

Nevertheless, he continued to berate Arthur, and threaten to have him incarcerated.

“You’re personally responsible,” Watkins said. “Please understand that. I will resign this bench and I will personally see to it that you never see a free day in your life.

“Do you understand? You’re going to jail,” he added. “I swear to God.

Three minutes into the hearing, Watkins gets calmed down, and apologizes to Lillian and Wallace, and formally begins the hearing. Though admitting to being “very upset,” Watkins refuses to recuse himself from it.

A lull in the storm

During the hearing, Watkins grants a motion by Wallace to appoint Poca attorney Richard Whitt as the special commissioner to oversee the sale of the marital home. Also, he orders Arthur to pay Whitt $500 for his services by May 25.

When Arthur says he doesn’t have the money to pay him, Watkins returns to berating him by asking him how he eats. When Hage says he eats little to nothing, Watkins calls him a liar.

“You’re supposed to be a man of God,” Watkins says in a raised voice. “How come you swear to tell the truth, but the very first thing out of your mouth is a lie. It’s a lie. It’s a damn lie, and you know it’s a damn lie.”

When Hage attempted to talk, Watkins screamed “Shut up! I didn’t tell you to talk! Did I tell you to talk? What did I tell you right at the beginning of the hearing? Are you deaf?”

Later in the hearing, Watkins granted a motion by Wallace that nearly $1,500 be deducted from Arthur’s share of the proceeds from the sale of the house to cover expenses, including her fees. Toward the end of hearing, Watkins said because Arthur’s actions, or lack thereof, were an attempt to “torpedo the deal” in violation of the protective order, he was going ask Putnam County Prosecutor Mark Sorsaia consider bringing criminal charges against Hage.

“I am going to refer this to the prosecuting attorney with a strong recommendation he be prosecuted for violating the protective order,” Watkins said. “Maybe a little time in the Western Regional Jail will straighten you out.”

Hage’s complaint

In his complaint, Hage says Watkins’ “actions on 5/23/12 were that of a mad man out of control.” Also, he said what occurred that day is typical of the abuse he’s received from Watkins during the previous 18 months.

In concluding his complaint, Hage said unless action is taken against Watkins for his conduct, then the words etched on the Putnam County Judicial Building will be a “shibboleth.”

“My prayer is that you would consider these statements that I have made and act upon them,” Hage said. “There is much more that could be said.”

“All that I am asking is that the words that are embedded on the outside of the Putnam County Courthouse ‘Equal Justice for All’ be adhered to.”

The complaint is the second Hage has filed against Watkins. One filed on Jan. 13 also accused Watkins of unprofessional behavior stemming mostly from his refusal to listen to Hage’s concerns about Lillian’s health and the “permanent” protective order Watkins signed restricting him from talking about it.

It is still under investigation.

The West Virginia Record attempted to obtain a comment from Watkins concerning Hage’s complaint. However, he did not return repeated telephone calls by presstime.

But he told the Charleston Daily Mail on Wednesday that he was referring to an article that appeared on a news site just before his hearing with the Hages.

He also told the Daily Mail he since has decided to recuse himself from the case.

“I’ve thought about that since that incident. I hate to impose something like this on somebody else, but I think I probably should get out of it,” Watkins told the Daily Mail, adding that he has written a request to the state Supreme Court asking it to recuse him from future hearings with the Hages. He said he was not sure if he had mailed the request.

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