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Judge William Watkins needs to go quickly

West Virginia created a family court system in an attempt to provide the public with a smoother, less fractious way of resolving complex, interrelated family messes.

It didn't work out that way in Putnam County.

Since at least 2011, Family Court Judge William Watkins has hurled hair-raising abuse at some of the people who appeared before him.

Why the judiciary took so long to deal with this is a mystery, but the state Supreme Court should not allow it to continue for one more second.

Watkins became a family court judge in 2002 and was re-elected in 2008. Sometime in 2011 - and perhaps long before then - he began verbally abusing litigants from the bench.

He was the subject of eight complaints in 2011, and the state Judicial Investigations Commission ultimately brought seven charges against him.

It alleged that Watkins delayed rulings, failed to enter domestic violence orders into the state's tracking system, and screamed and cursed at people in court.

The Judicial Hearing Board heard the charges against Watkins, and this week released a 42-page decision that included transcripts of his courtroom behavior. A couple of examples:

* In August 2011, Watkins screamed at a woman who sought a domestic violence protective order: "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."

* In June, Watkins exploded at Putnam County preacher Arthur Hage, who had filed a judicial ethics complaint against Watkins in October over his handling of Hage's divorce.

Watkins ended up shouting at Hage:

"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? Huh?"

The hearing board decided unanimously that Watkins had committed 24 violations of the state's Code of Judicial Conduct.

It recommended that the state Supreme Court censure Watkins for each violation and suspend him without pay until his term ends on Dec. 31, 2016.

Censure? Suspend?

Huh?

Due process is a dear thing, and the system has handled the public's complaints against this judge in an orderly, almost stately, manner.

But Watkins is still on the bench, and that shouldn't be. A little more speed is called for.

 


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