Putnam pastor seeks court-appointed attorney to challenge contempt allegation

WINFIELD – A Putnam County pastor is once again challenging a family law judge's actions.

            Rev. Art Hage filed a writ of prohibition against Putnam Family Law Judge William H. "Chip" Watkins III on May 23.  In his writ, Hage is asking Putnam Circuit Judge Phillip M. Stowers, who has been assigned the case, to halt Watkins from going forward with efforts to put him in jail for his alleged violation of a domestic violence protective order filed against him by his estranged wife, Lillian, until he has the benefit of legal counsel.

            According to the writ, Hage on May 1 received notice that a hearing on a contempt motion filed by Lillian's attorney, Christine Wallace with Legal Aid of West Virginia, would be heard before Watkins on May 22.  In the motion, Wallace accused Art of, among other things, violating a provision of the Dec. 14, 2010 domestic violence order that prohibited him from discussing with anyone Lillian's medical conditions.

            Wallace alleges Art violated the order when he discussed Lillian's mental health with Travis Bradley, and his wife, Jessica, and his former neighbors on April 12 while moving items out of his home on Kanawha Ave. in Hurricane.

            That same day, Art filed a petition asking the court to prohibit enforcement of the protective order, which Watkins, as part of bifurcating the Hage's divorce, "permanently" extended until Dec. 30, 2030.  Hage maintains the provision of the protective order prohibiting him discussing Lillian's mental health violates his First Amendment rights.
 
           In his May 23 writ, Hage asked that he be appointed an attorney to represent him in challenging the contempt petition.  He cited three decisions rendered by the state Supreme Court – SER Graves v. Daugherty, Smoot v. Dingess and Moore v. Hall – that held anyone facing potential incarceration in either a criminal or civil case is entitled to an attorney.

            The cases are ones cited by John Kemet Shabazz-El in a writ he filed in February against Marion Family Law Judge Amy Swisher to prohibit contempt proceedings against him from continuing until he was appointed an attorney.  In granting Shabazz-El's writ on April 9, Marion Circuit Judge David Janes also cited the state Constitution that said "any court proceeding that constrains or potentially constrains a defendant's liberty requires the court to appoint the defendant an attorney if he cannot afford one."

            Despite not formally filing his writ until after the May 22 hearing, Hage verbally asked Watkins to consider it.  Though he refused, Watkins allowed Hage to leave the hearing a free man.      

            As of presstime, a hearing on Hage's writ had not been scheduled.
           
Putnam Circuit Court case number: 12-C-163

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