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