CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The state Supreme Court has ruled that Putnam County Family Court Judge William "Chip" Watkins be suspended without pay until the end of his term in 2016.
The decision, handed down Tuesday, also directs that he be censured for 24 counts of misconduct and pay the costs of more than $17,000 associated with the investigation and prosecution.
Deloris Nibert, who was appointed family court judge during his absence, has now been appointed to finish out his term.
The court acted on the Judicial Hearing Board's December recommendation, but Watkins had objected to that penalty, saying it violated his constitutional rights.
Watkins admitted his misconduct, apologized and agreed to a 90-day suspension that included counseling and an overhaul of the way he and his staff conducted the court.
But the Hearing Board decided a harsher sanction was called for, and Supreme Court justices agreed.
The Hearing Board said it believed Watkins failed to maintain high standards of conduct and integrity and failed to maintain respect and decorum in the courtroom.
The Supreme Court's decision reads, in part, "The Judicial Hearing Board's recommendation that Judge Watkins be suspended from office is not to punish the judge for his extensive wrongdoing, but to relieve from the bench a person whose further service will be detrimental to the judicial branch of government.
"The Hearing Board found that Judge Watkins and his staff repeatedly failed to conform to the statutes, rules and regulations governing the family courts," it reads. "Rather than take corrective action, Judge Watkins supported the misconduct of his staff."
That misconduct includes failing to enter domestic violence protective orders in a timely way — as long as nine months. The court cited one instance where a party in a domestic case was arrested for following the victim with a firearm.