Judicial hearing board: family court judge should be suspended - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Judicial hearing board: Family court judge should be suspended

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Putnam Family Court Judge William M. Watkins. Photo from WOWK Putnam Family Court Judge William M. Watkins. Photo from WOWK
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A Putnam County Family Court judge who cussed and yelled at people before him in court could be suspended without pay until the end of his term in 2016 if the state Supreme Court accepts recent recommendations from the Judicial Hearing Board.  

The Judicial Hearing Board handed down an order Dec. 3 saying Putnam County Family Court Judge William M. Watkins III violated canons of the judicial code of conduct.

In addition, the board recommended Watkins to be censured on each of his 24 violations.

The court had charged Watkins with failing to return a ruling on a divorce case following a circuit court order. The state Supreme Court then ordered Watkins to rule on the case.  

The Supreme Court also charged Watkins with not updating the domestic violence registry.

The order also cited an "abject failure to treat litigants in his courtroom with the respect and dignity" for yelling at litigants in his courtroom. 

"Respondent's behavior exhibits a pattern and practice of a failure to maintain the honorable, high standards of conduct and integrity that the canons require of him," the order states. "Respondent's behavior exhibits a pattern and practice of a failure to act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary as the canons require of him."

The judicial hearing board said Watkins did not cooperate with the investigatory phase of the proceedings and as recently as Oct. 31 "continued to maintain he would be exonerated and that these proceedings were the product of either a misunderstanding or a lack of appreciation of the job of a family court judge."

The order said Watkins' behavior demonstrated a "loss of control over his emotions and conduct," along with "disrespect for authority," "lack of self-awareness," and "inability to manage his office in conformity with the applicable legal requirements and standards."

The Special Judicial Disciplinary Counsel also recently recommended that Watkins be suspended for 90 days but only if he did not cooperate with the state Supreme Court's recommendations.

The counsel also recommended that he take anger management courses, address office problems, take six hours of judicial training for domestic violence and pay a $17,759 fine.