West Virginia Judge Charged With Abusive Conduct Depicted in Courtroom Video

Rev. Arthur D. Hage, 63, has posted the video below as part of his complaint to the state Judicial Investigation Commission about Putnam County Circuit Court Family Law Judge William M. “Chip” Watkins III. It shows Watkins, 58, going ballistic in a divorce case where he screams at Hage, including to tell him to “Shut up” and accusing him of telling a “damn lie.”

Hage was raising a termite issue in the marital home that the minister felt had to be addressed before being sold to anyone. The judge appears out of control at points, screaming “I didn’t tell you to talk. … Are you deaf?” and “Shut up! I didn’t ask you to speak.”

Watkins accuses Hage of being behind a news website’s article about Watkins and his wife being delinquent on paying their homeowner’s association dues.

It starts out with Watkins saying calmly “Mr. Hage, if you say one word out of turn, you’re going to jail. Do you understand me?” That was a bad sign since I fail to see any basis for such a threat. Hage nonetheless answers “yes.”

Watkins then accuses Hage of speaking with a reporter after the prior hearing and his wife Lillian’s lawyer asked for an order of contempt for Hage mentioning his wife’s mental health problems in violation of a court order.

That is when Hage tried to speak and touched off a judicial eruption. Watkins screams “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 to say “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.”

Here is the most amazing thing, Watkins then proceeds to conduct the hearing and refuses to recuse himself.

The ethics charge has obvious merit given the judge’s personal interest and anger — not to mention his loss of composure and demeanor. Regardless of the merits of the allegations, Watkins was no longer a disinterested or neutral party.

Watkins was also accused of threatening two local reporters.

Source: West Virginia Record as first seen on ABA Journal.

47 thoughts on “West Virginia Judge Charged With Abusive Conduct Depicted in Courtroom Video

  1. This is just the tip of the ice berg in many Judicial Settings….. There are more of these kind of judges out there than pubically acknowledged….

  2. Allowing video in the court room degrades the honor and dignity of judicial proceedings. It has nothing to do with the behavior of the bench.

  3. Casey,

    You’re kidding right? If not, I don’t wish you the rather of an irate judge with just a court reporter……. You’ve not ever practice in a real courtroom I suspect…..

  4. I have to agree with the judge in his reaction to the vandalism that the good Rev had done. Unfortunately, we have two bad choices. One is for the judge to recuse himself, but in that case the Rev wins and gets a new judge who he can influence. Two if he does not recuse himself, then he looks like a biased fool and the Rev wins too. The judge reacted as a man and not a judge and fell into the trap set for him. So the best course, would have been to recuse himself and cut his losses.

  5. It is sad, but this judge reminds me of a couple I have known. One of them tried cite a person for contempt for cutting in front of him at a service station gas pump. Takes all kinds, I suppose.

  6. That case is all junk once the judge stepped over the line.

    The 5th Amendment kicks in, because of the right to an impartial adjudicator, and makes the proceedings unconstitutional.

    His judgment and order would be void ab initio.

  7. Wow. One entertaining video. This is a prime example why video recording of all judicial matters should be required. This judge is way out of control and should find a new line of work.

  8. This is interesting…and seems to verify an incident that two friends had several (shall I say many) years ago in a WVA courtroom no less..for many years I had a hard time believing them (not that they’re dishonest or serial liars…very much the opposite), but because I couldn’t believe a Judge would use such language in court…I guess I haven’t been in a courtroom enough to know the difference…or shall I say, I’ve never been in a WVA courtroom!

    Anyhow, two of my buddies were camping, parting and drinking in a rural area of West-by-God in the late 1990s. Out of booze, they did the logical thing and decided to drive to the closest town and get some more beer…of course, (you guessed it) they were pulled over and my one buddy was arrested for DUI and his wingman was put in the drunk tank with him for (I assume) drunk in public…

    I haven’t spoken with these friends in a few years, so the detail are a bit fuzzy…but after a night in the local county jail, for some reason the next morning the two were taken to the local general district court to appear before the local Judge. Process wise, I am not sure what this “hearing” would have been, but I assume at this point they were charged with DUI and DIP by the arresting officer? Possibly this “hearing” was to set a return date before they left the state? Regardless, they were in front of the local Judge the next morning….

    Anyhow, when my friends were called before the Judge (both still very much hungover), the Judge exclaimed “Now why are you two F***ers in my Courtroom?”…and then (according to my friend) the judge went on a 5 minute profanity laced tirade in which the defendants were peppered with profanities and insults….my friends said it was almost comical, and they couldn’t believe what they was hearing…however, no one else in the courtroom appeared to “blink” at the Judge’s choices of words…you know, business as usual…

    So, in the end, it all worked out well for my friends. After being cussed and insulted by the Judge, they were both released with no pending charges! I’d be more than happy with that, and they were too…Go figure…however, they did come home with a very interesting experience…

    God Bless ‘Merica!

  9. Arthur Randolph Erb
    1, July 3, 2012 at 9:15 am
    I have to agree with the judge in his reaction to the vandalism that the good Rev had done.

  10. So, where was this creepy vid posted and had all the parties in it been noticed and gvn their permission?

  11. How quick some people are to find the good Reverend guilty of vandalism based upon the heresay set forth by the judge. What happened to innocent until proven guilty?

  12. According to the linked article, this isn’t the first time this judge stepped over the line. No surprise there. Nor is he the first or only judge to be a…..(not supposed to call names) fill in the blank with your own choice profanity. Being late with any bill isn’t an end of the world situation. Being outed as owing the bill is a mild embarrassment, not life and death. The judge obviously has problems with priorities, what’s important and what isn’t. He needs a long vacation away from the court.

  13. There is an old saying down on the farm about cream rising and something else floating.

    This case is something else.

  14. Doing a little background research on this story brought me to the local online news website, http://www.putnamlive.net, the owner and publisher being Mark Hallburn. After reading some of the stories from this highly vocal, public-spirited news outlet for Putnam County, WV, I see that Mr. Hallburn, who is the one who actually published the now world-famous photo of Judge Watkins’ residence, and who has also filed at least one complaint against another judge way back in 2006, obviously knows how to be a ‘burn’ in the minds of various city hall officials and the local political leadership. It looks as if Hallburn knows that the divorce of the community’s well-known pastor and Bible college president Arthur Hage is big news, especially since the pastor’s wife claimed longterm spousal abuse in her original divorce complaint. There are two sides to everything, and Pastor Hage tried unsuccessfully during the divorce to try to get his wife a mental health assessment ordered by Judge Watkins. When the Hage family home was put up for sale, the Pastor felt potential buyers should be informed of an ongoing termite problem, but his concerns have been disregarded. His wife’s attorney said the termites, and other problems with the house, were ‘fixed’ years ago. Now Pastor Hage is facing a series of punitive financial rulings. When the local reporter, Mark Hallburn, talked to Hage outside the courtroom in May 2012, the Pastor evidently violated a “permanent protection order” included in the final divorce ruling in 2011, since he evidently mentioned his wife’s mental instability. Last month, Hallburn was already working on a story about Judge Watkins and his not being “in good standing” with his homeowners association. Watkins has been the subject of other controversies through the years, as verified by the archives of the West Virginia Record, a legal journal which covers West Virginia’s legal system. I cannot see how Judge Watkins could have blamed and threatened Pastor Arthur Hage for the story in Mark Hallburn’s totally independent site, http://www.putnamlife.net. The viral video is an amazing lesson on what kind of shenanigans judges think they can pull. Watch the judge and the bailiff throw their weight around, talking about the man who drove Pastor Hage to the hearing and is waiting in the hall. The judge orders the bailiff to remove him from the building. That man has now also filed a complaint, as well.

  15. @Anonymously Yours: Perhaps my sarcasm it too dry. And yes, I have been in a courtroom or two and yes I have been in that situation (though not quite as egregious) both getting yelled at and having my opponent getting yelled out.

  16. I hope the ghost of James Madison haunts the judge the rest of his life. His conscience won’t, apparently.

    Did his wife own a piece of the realty? She might get a percent on every deal she brings in when it close.

    American justice.

  17. Well Mr. Fos,

    Apparently it was lost…. Not saying others didn’t pick up on your particular wit…..

  18. so how did the courtroom hearing get taped and then the video get released? Was the Judge ever taken to task for publicly accusing Mr. Hage of vandalism and endangering his wife? How did this public knowledge come about???

  19. Two points:

    !. What possible criminal charges was the judge threatening to recommend for investigation by DA?

    2 Adviseng the realtor by the owner of known concealed faults is standard here. As is the duty to reveal this to any potential buyers.

    3 AS A BONUS; How come the judge has kept his seat so long?

  20. I was Pro Se for a med. mal. case. Would there had been video taping for that (as well as motions court) when the judge”s behavior (in both venues) was biased (against me), disrespectful, and injudicious (to be kind). I know judges hate Pro Se but it sure was something to see and hear it in person. Just wish others could have too.

  21. No one can condone the judge’s outburst or demeanor but there looks to be much more to this case than we see on the video. A protective order against a pastor, an off-duty police officer to escort his wife, allegations of vandalizing the judge’s home, leaks of confidential information to the local newspaper, cancellation of fire insurance on the marital home by the pastor, refusal to sign a deed out of conviction and then a change of heart based having to pay $500.00, a chauffeur for a broke pastor, and a finally an undisputed campaign of lies to sink the sale of marital home. I am not so quick to judge the court’s reaction to this guy who seems passive-aggressive to me.

  22. Mespo, the point that there is much more than meets the eye is obvious, but the victim of this display of judicial wrath is not an officer of the court, and the judge IS. What I have seen, even from highly respected judges whose records are remarkably clean because of lack of good videography (and other things we all know about), makes this just one of those instances where the window-dressing was good enough that the scene played out to the audience.

    Much more shocking to me is the situation (which I have personally not only lived through but meticulously documented) where the judge does things in which his “hand is hidden” and then he can use the entire mechanism of the state itself to work out a temper tantrum without — for the most part — raising his voice. This judge just didn’t have his act together. He could have made the guy into a pauper, deprived him of the ability to do ANYTHING much less to commit vandalism, and had it all protected by his “discretion.”

    He needs “judicial anger management” classes. He needs “excusable sadism” classes. He needs class.

  23. A little more research reveals the author of the blog allegedly leaking confidential information with the pastor’s help in violation of the protective order and who published the address and photo of the Judge Watkins’ home was himself a disgruntled litigant before another Putnam County Judge. Mark Hallburn, who writes a gadfly blog known as Putnam Live, filed a writ of prohibiiton against Judge Kelly alleging he improperly threw him out of the marital home and allowed his spouse’s attorney to tell lies about him. Seems a tad coincidental to miraculously discover Pastor Hage if you ask me. Smells of setup and a judge who fell for it. Let the judge stay on both cases.


  24. Reminds me.

    I was in NY Family Court with a New York mother 16-17 years ago. She was suing for the right to see her own kids when she had never been charged with any kind of child abuse or neglect — another idiotic long story of a celebrity custody case that captured the imagination of misogynist lawyers like Harriet Cohen Esq. blah blah blah —

    Anyway, she’s pro se and she’s in court but asked me to go along to help her because she’s 7 months pregnant with a child who is now almost 16 (was then an unborn protectorate-style-person).

    She’s asking Judge some-thing-or-other Katz (possibly Leah Katz, can’t remember) to sign an order to show cause. She leaves me in the waiting room with her lit bag full of heavy paperwork and she visits the ladies’ room. The bailiff comes out and asks, “Are you with Ms. Celebrity?” Yes, I say. “The judge says for you to come into the courtroom.”

    I go in, dragging in the papers. The judge is in there, the bailiff, me, that’s all. She’s reading her cc of the OSC. She looks up at me and says in a hostile voice, “WHERE IS Ms. Celebrity?” I say, “She’s in the ladies’ room briefly, Your Honor.” She continues reading. (The papers state that the mother is pro se.) She reads a little further. She looks up.

    “WHAT IS THIS?!!!!!” she screams.

    ME: I — well I guess you have her OSC there, Your Honor.

    JK: WHAT IS SHE DOING HERE WITH THIS!! (volume goes way up and she throws the papers off her desk to the right so they land on the floor near the bailiff, who does not move)

    ME: Your Honor, I really don’t know — she’s in the ladies’ room; she should be back here any minute.

    JK: [Volume reaches such a pitch that I am actually scared now] DON’T STAND THERE GAWKING AT ME, TELL ME WHAT’S GOING ON HERE, I’M NOT GOING TO WAIT FOR HER, YOU’RE HER LAWYER AREN’T YOU?”


    JK: [NORMAL VOICE!!] You’re not? Who ARE you?

    ME: I’m just a friend, Your Honor, she asked me to come with her to help her carry all this and I did —

    JK: [Normal voice again] Oh, OK. [To Bailiff] Go check and see if she’s ready yet.

    When I thought back to that scene (which rumor had it was not an uncommon scene with this wild crazy lunatic), I wished I had reacted differently. I wished I had responded, when her voice became normal again:

    “CRAZY, YOU WANT CRAZY? I’LL GIVE YOU CRAZY, YOU LUNATIC JUDICIAL PSYCHOPATH, HERE’S CRAZY FOR YOU” at which point I would have liked to start smashing everything in the courtroom and throwing everything I could find at her head while singing something cool like James Brown’s “I feel good.”

    A missed opportunity to make sense of our judicial system.

  25. There is certainly merits to both sides and their supporters’ arguments.

    Judge Solomon says however: The one using the gun and knowing how, is far more dangerous than the soon to be penniless pastor, even if the pastor is in cahoots with the fourth estate.

    Put a gun in a man’s hand and he will use it.
    The weaponless does not stand a chance, temper tantrum or not.

    Could have been many others who had it in for the judge, who thus squealed about many things. I could exemplify with several impersonally chosen.
    The judge, using the classic criteria, was simply scared to death, and that came out as rage. He knows himself how it is to be in a community where one’s reputation is damned in others eyes. He has ruined many a one himself, justly or unjustly.

    Secondarily, we can suppose that in the pastor’s basement is his harem, and his other slaves are doing his bidding 24/7.

    So I straddle the fence, an uncomfortable position. But necessary since I do not know. And those who say they are knowledgeable, are certainly related to one of the sides.

    Are we satisfied? An angry judge is no judge IMHO.

  26. Ah, Melisha. And then you’d have been put in some mental health facility and unable to comment here. Sometimes doing what feels good ends up hurting…. a lot. But I understand the impulse. We’d miss you.

  27. You know Mespo, my ex-husband sued a judge in Virginia for giving me custody, but then he made a motion to recuse the judge WITHOUT NOTICE and the fool coward judge recused THAT DAY also without notice. So these disgruntled litigants who do these very aggressive things with judges have a good chance of getting exactly what they want — thus these tactics are promoted. BY THE COURTS.

    When the court itself goes along with those bully tactics, the organizations that have invented them then have great marketing. In the case of the Virginia judge who was driven off my case (Lewis Hall Griffith), the guy actually came to the phone years later, when I called him, and he admitted to me that he recused (instantly, without first having a hearing at which my attorney could be heard in my behalf) because he was afraid of liability? What intelligent person in his judicial shoes could possibly have feared liability? He was sued for $35,000, by the way, for discriminating against MEN by giving custody to a woman that the man-litigant had described as “a good mother but with shortcomings.”

    So even using the disgruntled litigant’s own description of the case, the judge was to be driven off the case because he did not give enough weight to one litigant’s uncorroborated description of the other litigant’s SHORTCOMINGS [and I always maintained that that was an exaggeration, but we’ll let that joke go for now], and the courts not only embraced that result but defended it and continue to defend it until this very day.

    THE COURTS have brought about this ridiculous situation in which they cannot command respect from any intelligent people. THEY have done things so appallingly stupid and obviously evil that they have made themselves a laughingstock. That some punks like this preacher take advantage of it is, or should be, no surprise.

  28. As to Malisha’s fate if she had trashed the courtroom—-there, if Shano’s testimony is “real”, she would have quickly been driven into the streets from the mental facility, ie released to “sleep on traffic medians in broad daylight”. (in NYC)

    And now she displays the core of the corruption in this particular case. Any who doubt its widespread occurence: centuries and miles-wise?

    Is it really the complainer that gets the brass ring, as she says——-or is it money or its counterpart power that has been exchanged for this “service”?

  29. Do you often stub your toe on gold nuggets?

    This ON THREAD material came from Wikipedia, subject POLITICAL TRIALS. We are speaking of misuse of judicial powers, are we not. Here is one example.

    “A political trial is a criminal trial with political implications. A composite definition of a political trial might be “an examination before a court concerning the conduct of governmental affairs or somehow relating to government.”[1] T. Becker writes that “in a sense, all trials are political. Since courts are government agencies and judges are part of the ‘system’ all judicial decisions can be considered political.”[2] A political trial is characterized by the fact that public opinion and public attitudes on one or more social questions will inevitably have an effect on the decision.[3]”

    The next paragraph is even more interesting in terms of effect, etc. but will refer the interested to Wiki.

    My issue is that it is described as occuring with “criminal” trials. Well taken.

    BUT, civil trials, exemplified in family proceedings here, should be regarded as political—-in the meaning as shown in the last sentence of the above referenced citation.

    “….public opinion and public attitudes on one or more social questions will inevitably have an effect on the decision.”

    Of course some can contend that male backlash to women being granted child custody and support monies was not a factor in reversing earlier trends or existing standard judgements.

    But I don’t agree and I have litigated six of my own divorces “pro se”—–which was the term which brought me to this nugget.

  30. Some little guys have all the luck. Won’t tell you how long, oops, how tall he was.

    Goodnight from Stockholm. Sounds romantic? You should hear the lovesick cats howling in the yard from my fifth floor flat. Are they linked to the moon. And the coal thrush has started peeping. He feels the dawn before I do. Only an hour left now.

  31. Some of you know my history with former federal judge Edward “Naughty” Nottingham
    Anyway, before I ever crossed Nottingham’s path he was famous for berating lawyers. Then I heard that he was doing really indiscrete things such as kissing prostitutes on the street in front of his condo (according to 9 News of Denver), calling prostitutes on his court issued cell phone (according to the 10th Circuit), threatening a woman in a wheel chair (according to the 10th Circuit), getting extremely drunk in a strip club (publicly admitted).

    Then I read an article about early onset alzheimer’s. It’s associated with risk behavior and displays of anger.

  32. Just for those who don’t get it, I was joking about six ex-wives. So Mickey Rooney can rest in peace.
    That record is not challenged. So the challenged can also RIP.

  33. i can say that this is not the only judge that acts like this i know this to be a fact i know of a Raleigh County judge who acts like this her name is judge louise g. staton she is a judge for family court in raleigh county she takes away a person’s 5th amendment rights and lets lawyers make medical diagnosis with out having a degree in medical i know this to be a fact also the lawyer kyle lusk who is a lawyer in the beckley are practices WITH OUT a medical licenses and the reason i can say all of this to be a fact and to be the truth is because it happened to me on april 12, 2012 the lawyer kyle lusk told judge louise staton that i was mentally ill and i suffer from Munchausen Syndrome and that i was an unfit mother and that i was going to go home and kill my son and kill myself judge staton took away my 5th amendment right by telling me that i did not have any rights in her court room i was just wondering how a lawyer that doesnt have a medical degree and have NO evidence that i am unfit or that i am mentally ill can make a diagnosis like that the custody of my son was taken away from me with out cps being involved and a long with NO evidence stating that i was unfit or mentally ill or abusive BUT there was evidence against my ex husband that he was abusive AND custody was given to him i would like to know how any of this is legal.. not only with my case but with this one also…

  34. Mespo, please don’t criticize this mom named “sl” for her ungrammatical style; she’s in what I call “court shock.” I have seen it, unfortunately, hundreds of times. I’ll forgive her quickly for any grammatical or even syntactical errors. She should be regarded like a refugee who has just survived torture. If you practice law in the “normal” courts, you won’t really witness this kind of thing very often, maybe never. May you be so protected.

    That said, sl, let me address you now. “Munchausen syndrome by proxy” was invented by the lawyers who wanted to show that any mothers who supported their children’s outcries about abuse by fathers were either evil (trying to poison the kids against good dads) or crazy (having an illness in which they took their children to doctors or even harmed their children so they could drag them to doctors to get attention or something). Munchausen exists, but is so rare that it is probably more likely that a mom suffers from elephantiasis. Yet lawyers and even judges are bandying that “diagnosis” around as if it is more common than incest.

    NOTHING NEEDS TO BE PROVED against a mother who is accused of such behavior. Indeed, to actually prove Munchausen, you’d need quite a bit of evidence, but the courts are willing to ASSUME it since there are no standards, really, in Family Court. In Family Court, the judge’s “discretion” is so broad that anything can happen and Constitutional rights do not exist unless you throw a million dollars down at some big law firm to go find some for you.

    Read: http://www.amazon.com/Hostage-Child-Allegations-Custody-Disputes/dp/0253330459

    sl, I am very sorry this happened to you. There is nothing I can say other than IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT and it happens to lots and lots and lots of very good mothers.

    Sorry, sorry sorry SORRY.

  35. It make me sick that people think this was a one time incident with this judge. I myself was recently in his courtroom and found myself in the place that many others have been…on the recieving end of his bullying, favortisium, and unfair rulings. He doesnt rule in favor of what is in the best interest of children. Nor does he allow you to present evidence of that. However he did say that I was a great parent but yet he gave me no visitation rights. YES that’s what I said!!! I cant wait to recieve my video of the hearing. I know everyone else is afraid of his retaliation but he took the only things thats important to me. I hope this “so called judge” get what’s coming to him. I pray for all that have been done wrong by Judge Watikins and I will even say a prayer for him. I pray that god gives him a conscience, a heart, and brings him to his knees like he has done to so many of us.

  36. sl if you see this please let me know I have the same judge and I’m having similar problems with her so please let me know if you see this please

  37. @ sl is there any way that we can contact each other some how privately? I have questions we may be able to help each other, I am taking this to supreme court! If you want you can contact us at crdjm9@aol.com.

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