Two of the most basic premises in Western jurisprudence are impartiality of the judge and that the judge must follow the law and rulings of higher courts. Family Law Judge William Watkins of Putnam County, West Virginia, has repeatedly demonstrated that he is unable to perform either of these basic job duties. West Virginia has a legal obligation to remove this abusive man from the family law bench and to document his abusive conduct publicly to help ensure that no litigant in any court will ever be treated as unjustly and irresponsibly by him again.
Watkins first came to my attention based upon the video below that features him yelling, screaming, and threatening a quiet elderly man named Revered Arthur Hage in a family law hearing over sale of the family home in a divorce. From the very start of the tirade, Watkins makes it clear that he will not allow Hage to speak on threat of imprisonment. He then launches in a verbal tirade making accusations against Hage. The screaming is so loud that it causes the microphone and recording system to distort and clip the audio.
Judge William Watkins of Putnam County, West Virginia screaming and berating a litigant
Whether the accusations are true or not, I don’t claim to know. More importantly, the truth or falseness of the accusations is actually besides the point because the judge’s accusations are not about the case being heard but rather about a newspaper article featuring a photograph of Hage’s home and his wife and alleged vandalism of the home that he claims is somehow Hage’s fault. Can there be any kind of conflict of interest more obvious than this?
Home of Judge William Watkins at 111 Raintree Drive, Voiceover Explaining His HOA Arrears
Watkins has attacked many people in the community over their questioning his impartiality, his lateness on HOA (homeowner’s association) payments, and other problems involving him. His verbal rage at Hage exposes how he thinks he can use his position as a judge to retaliate against people in his courtroom simply because he believes they have something to do with his personal problems.
Watkins had a duty to immediately recuse himself from this case because of his personal feelings and strong conflict of interest. He should have done so by a proper written judicial recusal communicated to both parties, and this would have precluded his ridiculously abusive outburst in court. But Watkins failed to do so, instead holding a hearing to berate a litigant over personal matters and then proceeding to hear the matter thereby showing a complete inability to behave appropriately for a judge.
Even if Hage had personally spray painted, smashed windows, and littered trash at Watkins’ home and there was absolute proof of this such as by a video recording (to be clear, nobody claims there is such proof), Watkins still would have had no business behaving this way. The correct course of action would be to recuse from the case and let the police and prosecutor deal with Hage.