WINFIELD – A Putnam County pastor is accusing a family law judge of being “out-of-control” and has released video evidence to prove it.
The Rev. Arthur D. Hage on June 4 filed an ethics complaint against Putnam Family Law Judge William M. “Chip” Watkins III with the Judicial Investigation Commission, the arm of the state Supreme Court that investigates misconduct committed by judicial officers.
In his complaint, Hage, 63, alleges that Watkins, 58, treated him “like a criminal” when he “yelled and screamed at me” during two hearings in May in the pending divorce from his estranged wife, Lillian.
To bolster his complaint against Watkins, Hage on June 26 delivered to JIC a copy of the videotaped transcript of the May 23 hearing after making repeated phone calls during the last month to Watkins’ office, the Putnam Circuit Clerk’s Office and the Court. The tape, which Hage also released to several media outlets, including The West Virginia Record, shows Watkins unleashing a tirade on Hage during most of the 10-minute hearing accusing him of being behind a news website’s article about Watkins and his wife being delinquent on paying their homeowner’s association dues.
A three-minute tirade
The purpose of the May 23 hearing was to discuss appointment of a special commissioner to sell the Hages marital home in Hurricane. Previously, Arthur refused to sign the deed citing how portions of the home had mold and were termite-infested and would be against his conscience to sell it to someone else.
Shortly after the hearing started, Watkins, calmly, said, “Mr. Hage, if you say one word out of turn, you’re going to jail. Do you understand me?”
To which Hage replied, “Yes.”
Then, Watkins berated Hage for speaking to a reporter following the previous day’s hearing. On May 22, Watkins heard a motion made by Lillian’s attorney, Christine Wallace with Legal Aid of West Virginia, that Arthur be held in contempt for speaking with third parties about Lillian’s mental health in violation of the “permanent” protective order Watkins included in their final divorce order.
After that, Watkins accused Hage of being responsible for an article that appeared later that day on a Putnam County news site regarding Watkins and his wife, Rhonda, receiving a letter in the Fall from their homeowner’s association in Brierwood Estates in Teays Valley about them “not being in good standing” with their annual fees. The article included a picture of the Watkins’ house.
When Hage attempted to say something, Watkins screamed, “Shut up! Did I tell you to speak?”
“You put up a picture of my house,” he continued. “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.”
Then, Watkins says “You, you disgusting piece of …” and pauses for a moment. Upon resuming his tirade, Watkins points his left hand at Hage and says, “I swear to you. You’re responsible. I’m holding you personably responsible for anything that happens to my house.”
“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. …
“Well, buddy, it’s personal. It’s personal, and I can promise you, you will not hear the end of if from me.”
For a moment, Watkins took a breath and started to recuse himself from the hearing. However, he stopped in mid sentence only to say, “I’m too angry to even be appropriate in this case.”
Nevertheless, he continued to berate Arthur, and threaten to have him incarcerated.
“You’re personally responsible,” Watkins said. “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,” he added. “I swear to God.
Three minutes into the hearing, Watkins gets calmed down, and apologizes to Lillian and Wallace, and formally begins the hearing. Though admitting to being “very upset,” Watkins refuses to recuse himself from it.
A lull in the storm
During the hearing, Watkins grants a motion by Wallace to appoint Poca attorney Richard Whitt as the special commissioner to oversee the sale of the marital home. Also, he orders Arthur to pay Whitt $500 for his services by May 25.
When Arthur says he doesn’t have the money to pay him, Watkins returns to berating him by asking him how he eats. When Hage says he eats little to nothing, Watkins calls him a liar.
“You’re supposed to be a man of God,” Watkins says in a raised voice. “How come you swear to tell the truth, but the very first thing out of your mouth is a lie. It’s a lie. It’s a damn lie, and you know it’s a damn lie.”
When Hage attempted to talk, Watkins screamed “Shut up! I didn’t tell you to talk! Did I tell you to talk? What did I tell you right at the beginning of the hearing? Are you deaf?”
Later in the hearing, Watkins granted a motion by Wallace that nearly $1,500 be deducted from Arthur’s share of the proceeds from the sale of the house to cover expenses, including her fees. Toward the end of hearing, Watkins said because Arthur’s actions, or lack thereof, were an attempt to “torpedo the deal” in violation of the protective order, he was going ask Putnam County Prosecutor Mark Sorsaia consider bringing criminal charges against Hage.
“I am going to refer this to the prosecuting attorney with a strong recommendation he be prosecuted for violating the protective order,” Watkins said. “Maybe a little time in the Western Regional Jail will straighten you out.”
In his complaint, Hage says Watkins’ “actions on 5/23/12 were that of a mad man out of control.” Also, he said what occurred that day is typical of the abuse he’s received from Watkins during the previous 18 months.
In concluding his complaint, Hage said unless action is taken against Watkins for his conduct, then the words etched on the Putnam County Judicial Building will be a “shibboleth.”
“My prayer is that you would consider these statements that I have made and act upon them,” Hage said. “There is much more that could be said.”
“All that I am asking is that the words that are embedded on the outside of the Putnam County Courthouse ‘Equal Justice for All’ be adhered to.”
The complaint is the second Hage has filed against Watkins. One filed on Jan. 13 also accused Watkins of unprofessional behavior stemming mostly from his refusal to listen to Hage’s concerns about Lillian’s health and the “permanent” protective order Watkins signed restricting him from talking about it.
It is still under investigation.
The West Virginia Record attempted to obtain a comment from Watkins concerning Hage’s complaint. However, he did not return repeated telephone calls by presstime.
But he told the Charleston Daily Mail on Wednesday that he was referring to an article that appeared on a news site just before his hearing with the Hages.
He also told the Daily Mail he since has decided to recuse himself from the case.
“I’ve thought about that since that incident. I hate to impose something like this on somebody else, but I think I probably should get out of it,” Watkins told the Daily Mail, adding that he has written a request to the state Supreme Court asking it to recuse him from future hearings with the Hages. He said he was not sure if he had mailed the request.