West Virginia Judge In Abusive Video Will Not Face Complaint From Supreme Court Because He Is “Contrite”

We previously discussed the bizarre screaming tirade of Putnam Circuit Judge William Watkins in a divorce case. While the husband, Rev. Arthur D. Hage, 63, charged Watkins with misconduct, Steve Canterbury, the administrator of the West Virginia Supreme Court has announced that he will not seek charges in the case. It leaves some confusion over what it would take to get a charge out of the high court.


Canterbury insisted “I think the judge is embarrassed and certainly contrite about his outburst, and I think he has rightfully recused himself.” Really? Watkins did not recuse himself from the hearing after declaring this to now be a personal matter.

After screaming at the pastor to “shut up” and accusing him of feeding a negative story about Watkins to the media, Watkins adds “Because of you, my wife is there alone, and my house has been vandalized four times. You realize that, of course, as I’m sure you’re probably in on it and laughing about it.”

The judge continues by saying “You, you disgusting piece of …” and “I swear to you. You’re responsible. I’m holding you personably responsible for anything that happens to my house.”

In what appears to be the world’s most obvious point, Watkins states “I promise you that if see so much as anyone blanketing my home, my wife, my family, you and me are going to have a problem. …”

Notably, Watkins appears to start to recuse himself after saying “Well, buddy, it’s personal. It’s personal, and I can promise you, you will not hear the end of if from me.” It would seem recusal at that point is inevitable. However, Watkins stops himself and again starts to beat up on the pastor, including some remarkable threats : “Please understand that. I will resign this bench and I will personally see to it that you never see a free day in your life. Do you understand? You’re going to jail,. I swear to God.”

I have no doubt that he is embarrassed after becoming an Internet sensation. However, the video reveals conduct that is shocking and raises serious questions about Watkins’ suitability as a judge. Notably, absent such a video, it is doubtful that the pastor could have forced a recusal in the case. While most judges in this country are professional and civil, we often see judges behaving badly in court by unnecessarily berating and screaming at both lawyers and litigants. We have a federal judge in Virginia who is known to be so insecure that young lawyers are told to constantly kow-tow and compliment him to avoid an outburst.

As with videotaping police officers, there is a great value to videotaping judges. I have previously, for example, argued for televising Supreme Court arguments. While the same value in my view is to expose a loss of competence and ability by aging justices, there is also a benefit in terms of decorum. I have often heard from visitors to the Court that they were shocked by the arrogance and rudeness of the justices. I have seen such conduct in the Court. Justices know that lawyers are unlikely to object and risk alienating the Court from their client’s case. With no cameras, such conduct can flourish unabated.

As for Watkins, the video might help to find something of concern to the West Virginia Supreme Court:

Source: WV Gazette

25 thoughts on “West Virginia Judge In Abusive Video Will Not Face Complaint From Supreme Court Because He Is “Contrite”

  1. You have to be kidding me right……then how about the Attorney Discipine Board….Geeze……

  2. AY, let’s talk about the attorney discipline boards. In DC, that would be the “Board on Professional Responsibility,” for whom the folks who put the case together and bring the charges and recommendations are called “Bar Counsel.”

    Now, Bar Counsel works FOR THE LAWYERS. Its web-page is very clear about that. So let’s say you file a complaint. No, let’s say I DO. Let’s say the complaint is, say, that an attorney who represented me would not, thereafter, turn over the documents generated by his firm in my case, before a certain date. That date is, say, March 14, 2008. Less juss say.

    He says he doesn’t have to show me anything before that date because it’s “not relevant” and it’s just “behind the scenes” communications that I don’t need. But the BPR in DC has already issued an opinion, called Opinion 333, that says the lawyer has to turn over EVERYTHING that includes even his notes and his thoughts about strategy.

    OK, I file my complaint in, say, October 2011. In June, 2012, let’s say I inquire about what has happened and they say they’re going to defer a decision. I say they can’t and they say they can but they won’t tell me by what process they came to their conclusion and they won’t show me the file.

    Then I find out that before they can make a decision like that, they have to present the issue to a “hearing committee contact member” and they won’t tell me if they have done that or not.

    Finally I pester one of their employees enough that she writes me a letter now EIGHT MONTHS after I made this fairly simple complaint. She says in the ltter that they have NOT shown that recommendation to a hearing committee contact member YET. “Bar Counsel has not yet requested that the matter be deferred — a request that must be approved by a Contact Member of the Board. You will receive notice fro this office IF THE REQUEST FOR DEFERRAL IS GRANTED.”

    Wow, ain’t that cool?

    This is jut the tip of a very dirty, frozen-solid iceberg. Bar Disciplinary proceedings in all the states are essentially sham proceedings designed to protect attorneys from the clients they may have wronged. There is nothing real going on there; it is cosmetic. It takes long enough to make the person forget about it. And then you get the official kiss-off. Taxpayers pay a ton of money for these goons to pretend to examine cases; most of them are just laughing at the silly clients who think they will get ONE SET OF ATTORNEYS to turn on ANOTHER just because they didn’t get what they consider their money’s worth. It’s the biggest YUK YUK YUK in the bag of government cover-ups designed to keep the ordinary citizen powerless.

    Oh and here’s another thing: The proceedings are confidential so once you grieve an attorney, you can’t talk about it. STAR CHAMBER.

    Check out: The Paradox and Promise of Restorative Attorney Discipline, at

    http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&sqi=2&ved=0CEoQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fscholars.law.unlv.edu%2Fcgi%2Fviewcontent.cgi%3Farticle%3D1067%26context%3Dnlj&ei=jkf0T-eRNaL66QHMv7H7Bg&usg=AFQjCNEclsTFnPvLB4YDvBlc0yKQEJTFXQ&sig2=J8LtQ3t6iv7V5rNqlfi6fQ

    Jennifer Brown’s and Liana Wolf’s article on attorney ethics complaints. Paints a bleak picture.

    Few examples: In California, a Superior Court judge (Donna Shields-Goldstein) got a secret petition 52 pages long, kept it hidden in chambers, granted it without notice, and then when caught (some damn clerk accidentally put it in the file!), Fed Ex’d it back to the wrongdoer who had secretly and privately sent it to her, eight months after receiving it, and the complaint against her was dismissed.

    In Virginia, a judge (F. Bruce Bach) granted a whole new trial, without notice, to a disgruntled litigant because he had sued the judge who made the order, and Bach found that he was “not satisfied” and besides, since there had been no appeal, he did not know what had caused the prior judge to make the ruling he had made, so he wanted to do it over again. The complaint against him was dismissed.

    In New York a judge (Alvin Deutsch) held a whole proceeding on a divorce that had already been granted, without any legal foundation, and refused to consider evidence from physicians who claimed that a child had been brought to them in the E.R.at death’s door, even though they filed affidavits and reports of child abuse, etc., and he ruled that the mother who had saved her daughter’s life by taking her to the E.R. (where she was hosptalized and KEPT IN THE HOSPITAL FOR 11 DAYS) could never visit the child again because she violated his “no doctors” order. The complaint against him was dismissed.

    The list goes on and on and on and on and it will continue to do so because we have all, like passive little kindergarten children, allowed the legal profession to POLICE ITSELF.

    Until somebody starts making the judges accountable, the judicial system will never improve, and since it probably CAN’T get any WORSE, it will stay just as it is.

  3. I think the WVa Supreme Court realized this was an unusual case and that there was more to it than just this hearing. Watkins has been a judge there since 2002 and apparently served without incident. As mentioned before, there appears to be a vendetta against the entire Putnam County Circuit Court by the editor of the blog that released confidential medical information against the pastor’s wife in violation of a court protective order and also ran a photo of the judge’s home when it ran a story about the judge’s supposed unpaid home owner’s association dues. ( I guess that passes for news in Putnam County, WVa). The Judge’s wife’s car windows have been smashed three times in their driveway and a hammer thrown through his home window.

    The source for the story about his wife’s medical condition (Rev. Hage says she is suffering from a hormonal/chemical imbalance in his medical opinion) seems to be the Reverend who talked to another reporter, Lawrence Smith, who does freelance work for the blog. Judge Watkins cited domestic violence requiring a protective order and a pattern of lies by the reverend who also allegedly tried to tank the sale of the marital home just before the closing. Hage also wanted a complete medical and mental evaluation of his wife as part of the divorce saying in pleadings that she’d have to be out of her mind to want to divorce him. Combine that with the judge’s home being vandalized while his disabled wife at home alone and Hage’s “chauffeur” laughing at the proceedings and you have a understandably volatile situation. No one condone’s the judge’s words and he should have recused himself earlier but I don’t think punishing a man for standing up to a passive-aggressive bully should result in a suspension or firing.

    By the way, Hage is suing Watkins for $5 million for the alleged abuse. We’ll see how that turns out. He also filed one against his wife and daughter arising from the divorce that was dismissed. That Reverend’s a real charmer.

  4. Malisha,
    I am sorry for the problems you are having in DC, but in Illinois the ARDC functions pretty well and they take complaints very seriously.

  5. I’ve got to go with the Prof, raff and AY on this one, mespo. No matter the other factors in this case, this kind of behavior from a judge is simply unacceptable. It may have been embarrassing to him personally, but it also impugned and undermined both the bench and the bar.

  6. The judge should resign and if there is evidence to support charges against the Rev. they should be made – and heard by a different judge.

  7. Yes, as the saying goes, sunlight is the best disinfectant. Show these arrogant power abusers for what they are. Or hopefully prevent them from being so; all the better.

  8. I’m shocked, I tell you, shocked. Not.
    They protect their own as do lawyers, police, doctors, etc.

  9. But DOCTORS do not have a licensing board run by DOCTORS; it is run by LAWYERS.

    I know a woman who is now behind bars for LIFE and she used to work for the board that defrocked DOCTORS and she was good at defrocking them.

    By the way, Rafflaw, I think I agree with you about Illinois — I saw them disbar a crook, who then made up some bullsh*t to get reinstated and couldn’t. BUT THIS GUY got big respect while laundering money and selling drugs in California!

    I’m not saying that every single attorney discipline board is utterly corrupt; I do believe that it is more LIKELY than not, in most places. In DC, for example, they suspended license for 60 days for a solo practitioner with a foreign-sounding name when he withheld the file from his client for 5 days. It’s four years now for the atty I grieved but he’s connected. He hired ex-President of the Maryland Bar to protect him from the consequences of what he did — and what he DID was to work for my adversary, deliberately.

  10. OK, I remembered his name.

    Here’s Judge Perry Bowen:

    http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=888&dat=19670925&id=vGpQAAAAIBAJ&sjid=mloDAAAAIBAJ&pg=5936,3353522

    The more important article about Bowen has not made it to the web. Here is what it said:

    Bowen owns a big tobacco farm.
    Just before Harvest time for the tobacco, he would sentence about 60 young Black men to county jail time just under 6 months, AFTER ascertaining if they had any experience picking tobacco. The Sheriff would house them at the jail and provide their medical treatment by Medicaid. Each morning at 4:30 a.m. the Sheriff’s trucks would pick them up in the jail, transport them to Judge Perry’s farm, and have the harvest his crop. ALL THIS WAS REPORTED in an article with the headline: “DOING TIME ON JUDGE BOWEN’S FARM.” It continued. Nothing was investigated, nothing was changed, and he got all that free labor at taxpayer expense. Oh, and the PD who arranged all these sentences was — oh never mind.

  11. Malisha, In Pa, the Pa medical board (6 docs, 2 members public, sec’t of health – for which this guy was nominated 4 weeks after the forced settlement, and commissioner of professional and occupational affairs) as well as the neurosugical society ignored my complaint when Dr. Jannetta, who paralyzed my face (from med mal), perjured hmself in court. (The state Board of Medicine is also mostly M.D’s)
    The sanctioning societies do not care about protecting the patients, current and future, but only protecting themselves. (From what I have seen)+

    I may have written this before but when went to fee dispute against the lawyer who forced me to settle above case against my wll and written wishes I was awarded, not allowed to say how much but was less then 10,001 and more then 9,999, not quite a negligible amount, they wrote I was ‘awarded’ that amount but they found in favor of the attorney. No they didn;t they found for me or why did I get additional money from the lawyer but this way he is always able to say he was never ruled against in fee dispute.
    When I went to the hearing the attorney who did the questioniong, 2 out of the 3 were nasty and treated me as a hostile witness. One of the 2 said, “By he way I am also on the disciplinary committee.”, the subtext being don;t bother to make a complaint there.
    These guys rae corrupt, whether a function of fraternity or of just being a lawyer I don’t know but as a whole the professional should be ashamed of the face the public most often seems to see (and hear as with this judge above.)

  12. LeeJCarroll, I had no idea. Shows — I haven’t had much to do with doctors, but have had about all the experiences with lawyers that a person can have. So thanks for the additional information.

    I am not really all that surprised, by the way. I didn’t know it, though.

    Ugh. How utterly disgusting.

  13. The new slavery = prisons, YES EXACTLY.

    Not ONLY. The new feudalism = all of it.

    Yeah, massa, if you’re younger than 65, get ready. If you’re older than 65, get used to it. If you’re 65, get over it.

  14. Well now, I wonder if any defendants have come before this judge who were relieved of the charges because they were CONTRITE.

    It would seem a shame if contrition were not enough for those defendants, but the same contrition were enough for their judge. Huh…

  15. Mespo, I think the WVA Supreme Court realized this was a special case because Watkins is a judge. That’s special. Much more has been taken from people, and much more has been unlawfully done to people, than what this guy suffered. Every day in every state of the union in every courthouse in the country, over and over and over and over, much of it done BY FAMILY COURT JUDGES, and lots of people have to tolerate a lot worse than what was done to him by this loon/goon Hage, but let’s not forget: Those victims were not important. He’s a judge. He carries that immunity and that’s his impunity. The WVA Supreme Court just did what all the Supreme Courts do all the time. Excuse the judge because whatever he does wrong is just being done to someone less powerful than himself.

    It’s a difference without a distinction. WVA Supreme Court did this for the same reason a dog licks his own balls: Because it CAN.

  16. malisha:

    “Those victims were not important. He’s a judge. He carries that immunity and that’s his impunity. ”

    *******************

    If your premises are that everyone is corrupt; there are no extenuating circumstances; all judges are power hungry maniacs; you must arrive at the conclusion you do. Because I don’t accept those premises I can look on every case as a separate instance instead of lumping them together.

  17. Mark,

    There are some very valid statements made here….. Unfortunately some folks just get one ride with the bull and that’s where they make up their minds…… The seasons attorneys know that there are many more bull’s to ride and hope the clowns clear the way before we arrive……

  18. Mespo, AY, I don’t say (although I sometimes use it as a hyperbole that is a blogging-writing-public speaking device) that all judges are irremediably corrupt. What I DO SAY and don’t back down off is this:

    IF a judge has an ORDINARY amount of what it takes to function in a corrupt way now and then and get away with it 100% without difficulty, and let’s call that “Quality X in Quantity Y” or, more succinctly, “enough XY,” then they can go totally haywire bonkers loongoon CRAZY on a few people at a few places along the line, and they can get everyone in the important places (appellate courts, agencies, police, etc. etc. etc.) to not only back them up, but to cover up anything that has to be covered up, to fix anything that has to be fixed, and to destroy anyone who has to be destroyed. ANYONE who is less powerful and/or who has less “enough XY” than they have, that is.

    A guy can be a good judge with a good reputation and what is generally thought of as integrity. He can go apesh*t on one person for one reason (like an urgent and urging phone call from a brother on the bench) and he can get back-up from every quarter to insulate him from the results. Let’s just say that the person becomes quite FOCUSED and maybe even FANATICAL on restoring his or her (I’ll choose “her”) rights. Let’s say she’s not dumb. Let’s say she figures out remedy-1, then remedy-2, then remedy-3, and on down the line. Let’s say that she doesn’t quit and the thing gets bigger and bigger and bigger.

    What’s he to do? Admit that he did something completely outrageous, that he should be reversed and maybe even investigated for some malfeasance or misfeasance in office? That he done wrong?

    Here’s what he will do AT LEAST HALF THE TIME: Twist everybody’s arm into protecting him from the natural consequences of his conduct.

    I see that; I call it corruption. I see it a LOT! Why? Because it’s EASY. Opposing it is, on the other hand, HARD.

    This is not about a chance ride on a bull that was the wrong bull. Here’s what it’s made of:

    1. I have heard an assistant AG in New York stand on a street corner and say to an African American woman who was challenging a judge with a mandamus because he was ruling without jurisdiction (subject matter jurisdiction) over the cause, “Ms. P*****s, please, I don’t want to see you do this. You’re African American; I’m African American, you know that I like you and I am concerned about you. Do not attack Judge Friedman like this. He can do things to you and YOU WILL NEVER SEE HIS HAND IN IT.” Ms. P*****s smiled at the Assistant AG and she said, “Thank you for your concern.”

    2. I have heard a Commonwealth Attorney from Arlington, VA (who went on to become a US Attorney and thence to become Commissioner of the Parole Board in Virginia) say to me point blank and dishonestly that there was NO MECHANISM IN STATE LAW FOR VACATING A FELONY WARRANT ONCE IT WAS DRAWN. That was a lie. She knew I would believe it, though, because at that time I had the reputation of really having respect for public officials and she was one. It was not only a lie, it was a separate act of corruption and misfeasance AND malfeasance because her office had ALREADY withdrawn the felony warrant when she said that, and she knew it.

    3. I have heard a judge in California threaten a mother with loss of all contact with her child IF SHE TOLD THE CHILD that the judge was ordering that she be taken from her mother in four days. The mother was threatened that if she did not let the guardian ad litem inform the child, rather than telling her herself, she would not only lose all her visitation but would “be sorry if I ever find out.” There is no California law that allows a Family Court judge (or any other judge) to restrict free speech in advance based on content.

    4. I have heard a Virginia judge reference Neville Chamberlain while making his own decision, and saying that he was going to follow Chamberlain’s method of appeasement, even though he thought he “might be making a heck of a mistake.” This same judge called the person for whom he made that mistake a “Jewish Nazi.”

    5. I have read a transcript of one judge talking to another judge and telling him bold, provably false lies, about what had previously happened in his court. This was supposed to be in aid of the two judges figuring out certain jurisdictional issues but it was just an excuse for one judge to prejudice the other judge in ways he knew he couldn’t support if the court documents were actually produced and revealed.

    6. I have had a Clerk of Court threaten to get a protective order against me asking questions of “her” employees to see how long a certain kind of case usually waited before a hearing was held.

    I have three, four hundred more of these isolated anecdotal incidents to report. Are there also good judges who are honest? Sure. Can we trust the system? HELL NO!!!!!

    And HERE is why we can’t: Because it’s strictly up to the individual judge or public official if he wants to be honest or fraudulent, just or corrupt. THE DECISION IS ENTIRELY UP TO HIM. Why? Because of Judicial immunity, because of the power coefficient, because of money, because of everybody having something on everybody else. IF a judge wants to act properly and if he errs, err only because he got something wrong (which, after all, is fine, and we can all live with that, and we all MUST live with that), then he can. But IF he chooses to act wrong, corruptly, dishonestly, inappropriately, or criminally, he will be protected. 99.99% of the time, if he does choose to act wrong, corruptly, dishonestly, inappropriately, or even criminally, there will be NO PRICE FOR HIM TO PAY; the price will be paid by his victim(s).

    I’ll take that belief to my grave with me. Maybe sooner rather than later.

  19. Sickening. “He’s contrite”?? This judge represents in a very visible example what I believe the majority of family court judges in this state believe…that they are Gods and the citizens are subjects. Judges have no check and balance and if this doesn’t prove it I don’t know what would. That was nothing but an assault plain and simple. I long for the day one of these robed cows lights up like that on a vet returning from Afghanistan after taking away his kids, and enslaving him to a life of purgatory supporting a cheating wife and giving away his retirement to her. Their needs to be an entire review of the record of these judges and what goes on in these courtrooms. Men are routinely treated like this it is just never seen. Family court needs to be open. Afterall, if these Judges are so confident in their decisions then they should have no problem with the scrutiny of the judgement and their behavior in court. This pathetic Judge and all like him should be reprimanded and removed from the bench.

  20. Malisha, we should connect and share resources. 410 916 8863. Todd W. I’m knee deep in exposing lot of corrupt servants occupying an office of the public trust. Attacked often by those criminals, have a few arrows sticking in me now. You have in depth knowledge like I do. We should leverage that knowledge.

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