We previously discussed the on-going saga of West Virginia Judge William “Chip” Walkins III who verbally attacked Rev. Arthur DR. Hage, 63, in a divorce case, screaming for him to “Shut up” and accusing him of telling a “damn lie.” It was not the only such incident of abusive behavior and Watkins has now been hit by a recommendation that he be suspended for the rest of his term. That suspension extending to 2016 is justified in part on what the hearing board found to be his glaring and hostile posture toward one of his accusers.
The harsh recommendation is in sharp contrast to the proposed 90 days suspension of Watkins’ lawyer and, more notably, the head of the State Bar’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel. Watkins was hit with five charges from the Judicial Investigation Commission, including additional videos showing abusive treatment of other litigants. In addition to the Hage outburst, Watkins is accused of:
• Challenging a mother’s assertion that she got pregnant by accident by saying “Well, honey, it ain’t an accident. You don’t get them off of toilet seats.” He also described the father as someone who “got into some dumb shit” and he said that he didn’t want to spend time determining “who was the biggest jackass in the operation.”
• Telling a bailiff to remove a litigant from the courtroom and “take his ass into custody.”
• Telling a woman she was “shooting off [her] fat mouth” and “Shut up, you stupid woman.”
• Refusing to recuse himself in a divorce case in a letter to the litigant that said, “Every other witness describes you as rude, obnoxious, loud, unprofessional and generally acting like the south end of a north-bound horse. I choose to believe them.”
The demeanor observation was the most notable part of the opinion. One of the accusers, Mark Hallburn, asked the judge to face him when he had the opportunity to address him. The Court immediately ruled that the request was improper. However, the board noted that “[d]espite what appeared to be the advice of his counsel that he not do so, [Watkins] turned in his chair, leaned back, crossed his arms, and glared at complainant in an angry and confrontational manner.” The board found Watkins’ demeanor “less than sincere.”
I am a bit uncomfortable with crossed arms and a glare being any basis for a recommendation, but demeanor is a classic factor in evaluating a witness or an accused party. Watkins did not appear to think it would matter. He also does not appear to have much restraint or modesty outside of the proceedings. He reportedly told an evaluator that he was confident that they would dismiss the charges because “[t]hey will realize I’m the best family judge in West Virginia, without any question.” It appears that a few people might have some questions on that point.
The board found that Watkins routinely engaged in injudicious conduct and “demonstrated a preference for using threats, intimidation, profanity and shouting rather than the tools available to judges, including civil and criminal contempt, to deal with admittedly difficult litigants.”
In addition to the suspension until Dec. 31, 2016, the board wants Watkins to pay nearly $18,000 to cover the costs of the case.
Here is the opinion.