West Virginia Board Recommends Judge’s Suspension Until 2016 In Part Based On His Demeanor In Disciplinary Hearing

SZ200_cwatkinsWe 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.

Source: Gazette as first seen on ABA Journal

19 thoughts on “West Virginia Board Recommends Judge’s Suspension Until 2016 In Part Based On His Demeanor In Disciplinary Hearing”

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  4. It’s difficult to find educated people on this subject, but you sound like you know what you’re talking about!

  5. He should not be a judge. He should run for Congress. He probably runs from his wife each day.

  6. indio, There are many judges w/ judicial temperment. They don’t make the news. And believe me, there is no one tougher on attorneys, judges than me. But, like AY says, they do have more than their share of bloated egos.

  7. Indio,

    Just like all egotist…. They seek power and domination….. One of the principals…..

  8. This West Virginia judge should be removed from the bench for good! I remember the video of him berating the litigant and anyone who would respond like that on the bench is unfit.
    I also agree that the judge in New York deserves an expulsion.

  9. Re: this line from Prof. Turley’s post: “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.” A judicial disciplinary hearing is not a trial, and amorphous concepts like how a judge comports him/herself do come into play. Watkins obviously was thumbing his nose at the process — his mistake.

    bettykath, New York is a bit anomalous in how it handles judicial discipline — in New York, you can only censure or remove a judge. There are no intermediate sanctions. Thus behavior, like with your gun-firing judge, that would probably earn you a healthy suspension from the bench in other states, gets only a censure in New York. (A side note — you have to really blow it to be removed as a judge.)

  10. Thanks, Frankly. Isn’t the internet wonderful.


    Upstate Judge Is Censured for Accidentally Firing Gun in Chambers
    Published: August 27, 2012

    On second thought, Judge Vincent A. Sgueglia admitted to state judicial officials, the landmark courthouse in Owego, N.Y., was probably not the best place to repair a revolver with a faulty firing mechanism.

    That was what he was doing, alone in his chambers on the first floor of the 140-year-old courthouse, during a recess on the morning of Jan. 21, 2010.

    The gun, a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson that he said he did not realize was loaded, went off. The bullet dug into a wall. No one was injured.

    On Monday, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct censured Judge Sgueglia (pronounced SQUEEL-ee-uh) for the mishap — and for having approved his own gun permit in 2005, an action the commission administrator, Robert H. Tembeckjian, called “an obvious conflict.”

    “Any judge has to be disqualified from any case in which his or her impartiality might reasonably be questioned,” Mr. Tembeckjian said in a telephone interview. “Approving permits or taking any judicial action in a matter involving oneself is obviously something a judge should not do.”

    Judge Sgueglia, the only judge assigned to Tioga County Court in upstate New York, has accepted the censure, the commission said. He recently turned 70, the mandatory retirement age for state judges, and the commission said he had agreed not to serve as a judicial hearing officer, as many retired state judges do, once his term ends on Dec. 31.

    The commission said Judge Sgueglia had started carrying a gun to work after instances when he said he felt threatened. In the first, in November 2002, while he was campaigning for re-election, the commission said a man carrying a pickax cursed at him, saying the judge had ruined his life. Another time, the commission said, the judge was outside the courthouse when a man said he wished the judge were dead.

    And in 2010, the commission said, Harvey J. Smith, a convicted sex offender who was serving time in the Tioga County jail, was charged with trying to recruit another inmate to murder the judge.

    Judge Sgueglia, a former defense lawyer who graduated from Fordham University in 1964 and from St. John’s University School of Law in 1967, took office in 1993. Two years later, he presided over a murder trial that received nationwide coverage: a jury convicted a 49-year-old woman of suffocating five of her children between 1965 and 1971. Judge Sgueglia sentenced her to at least 75 years in prison, handing down the minimum term for each count of second-degree murder but ruling that the sentences were to be served consecutively, not concurrently.

    As for his guns, the commission said he had applied for a permit to carry concealed pistols in 2005, listing three weapons. The Tioga County Sheriff’s office, which reviews such permits in the Owego area, recommended approval. It sent the application back to the judge, just as it would return any application it had reviewed, the commission said.

    But Judge Sgueglia was not just any applicant. He had the power to approve gun permits, and the commission said he used it.

    The commission said it was “inappropriate” for Judge Sgueglia “to take judicial action on his own pistol permit application and that he should have consulted with court officials to arrange for another judge to handle the matter.” Alan J. Pope, a lawyer who represented the judge before the commission, did not return a call seeking comment.

    The commission also said that between 2006 and 2010, the judge submitted 14 amendments to his gun permit, covering 17 other pistols. The commission said that the additions required no judicial approval.

    The commission said the judge had apprised court officers in Owego that he was carrying a loaded gun to work but not the Sixth Judicial District’s administrative office, which oversees his court from Binghamton, less than 25 miles away. His “standard practice was to keep the firearm in a drawer in his chambers while he was in the courthouse,” the commission said, adding that “there were no administrative policies prohibiting judges from bringing firearms into their chambers.”

    The commission said that on the morning he took the faulty Smith & Wesson to his office, he believed it was not loaded when he started working on it. Even so, “as a standard protocol, he pointed it in a safe direction at a concrete wall,” the commission said.

    The commission said Owego has an ordinance that prohibits anyone from firing a gun in the village except when on official duty, in self-defense or during target practice at an indoor range. None of those exceptions applied, but the commission noted that the judge “did not receive a summons or ticket for violating the local ordinance.”

    The commission also said that it was the last day the judge took a gun to work.

    “We are lucky and grateful that no one was injured,” Mr. Tembeckjian said in a statement.

  11. Frankly, I think he said it was an accident. The guy is a real sleeze and has no business practicing law, let alone judging others.

  12. bettykath – WHA? wouldn’t firing a gun in your office be a crime that should be charged? I know, I’m naive to assume justice is even-handed but that seems a bit much to overlook.

  13. It’s provincial law in British Columbia that psychiatric patients on the unit where I work can arrange a “review panel” hearing — sort of like a psychiatric habeas corpus hearing — to challenge why they have been forced into a locked hospital ward hospital against their will, and whether they could be allowed to go free. Most of them are unable to control their behaviour when they’re in front of the three-person review team. They’ll start spouting their delusions, or give rambling tangential speeches that don’t make too much sense, or they’ll unleash a torrent of hostility toward the psychiatrists, etc. And if they can’t keep it together in a formal proceeding, they’re judged not competent to be released (until we get their meds right and their behaviour better managed.) Sounds like a similar thing with Walkins. He’s so out-of-control with his crude sense of arrogant superiority that he couldn’t restrain himself even when he knew he was under the watchful eye. If you’re not even able to keep it together THEN, you have no business wielding power over others.

  14. Some good news. Now if the NY Board would do the same for Vince Sgualia, the judge with lots of guns who fired one in his office.

  15. It’s actually a crime in Washington State for judges to act as this man has.


    RCW 42.20.110
    Improper conduct by certain justices.

    It shall be a misdemeanor for any judge or justice of any court not of record, during the hearing of any cause or proceeding therein, to address any person in his or her presence in unfit, unseemly, or improper language.

    [2012 c 117 § 117; 1911 c 115 § 1; RRS § 2696-1.]

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