CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Putnam County Family Court Judge William Watkins has filed an objection to the sanctions against him and asked the Supreme Court to delay proceedings while he files for disability and retirement.
The Supreme Court decided not to hold up proceedings against Watkins and scheduled a Feb. 5 hearing on his objections to the recommended punishment. That disposition requires him to relinquish the bench until 2016, the remainder of his term.
Watkins, 59, has come under fire for his courtroom behavior and his administrative handling of domestic cases. He was charged formally with misconduct and the State Judicial Hearing Board recommended his suspension. The Supreme Court has the final say.
Watkins, who was first elected in 2002, claims his reputation has been irreparably harmed by some of the information in court documents released to the media, including some details of his psychological reports.
He is also not happy that some complainants were permitted to speak at a hearing last month without being sworn and without cross-examination allowed.
One of those people, Mark Halburn, directed his comments directly to Watkins and at one point requested that the judge turn around and face him. The judge did, but the Judicial Hearing Board members noted, "he turned in his chair, leaned back, crossed his arms and glared at him in an angry and confrontational manner."
At that hearing, Watkins apologized for his courtroom behavior, which involved sometimes losing his temper and swearing at people who came before him. He agreed to be monitored and supervised, get counseling and pay more than $17,000 for the investigation. He insisted he wants to continue as judge.
He objects to the harsher penalty, but has indicated that he plans to retire. Watkins said he has begun the process of applying for disability.
The judge has a heart condition and has had heart surgery in the past. He has said the stress of his job, coupled with his worries over his health and that of his disabled wife, caused him to lash out at times in his courtroom.
Watkins said he and his attorney, Robert Martin, and the Judicial Hearing board spent months investigating the complaints and coming up with a disposition that both agreed upon.
In his response, filed Wednesday with the Supreme Court, Watkins said the decision to remove him from office until 2016 "violates his constitutional rights and the constitutional rights of all citizens of Putnam County through the suspension of the only family court judge in the county."
He asked that all the complaints against him be dismissed, which the Supreme Court also denied.
Contact writer Cheryl Caswell at cher...@dailymail.com or 348-4832.