Suit accuses Putnam family law judge of abusing authority, unprofessional conduct

By Lawrence Smith | May 10, 2012

WINFIELD – A pastor is seeking to stop a Putnam County judge's directives he says are destroying his family.

WINFIELD – A pastor is seeking to stop a Putnam County judge's directives he says are destroying his family.

Rev. Arthur Hage filed a petition in Putnam Circuit Court on May 1 against Putnam Family Law Judge William H. "Chip" Watkins III regarding a domestic violence protective order Watkins granted Hage's wife, Lillian, nearly 18 months ago. In his petition, Hage, 63, a Hurricane resident who oversees ministries in Putnam and Cabell counties, says Watkins not only acted hastily in issuing the order, but also unprofessionally all the times he's appeared before him.

According to the petition, Watkins on Dec. 14, 2010, granted a protective order Lillian filed against Arthur shortly after initiating divorce proceedings against him. Watkins, Arthur says, granted the order despite "not a single witness to these false and erroneous claims nor is there a single photograph."

Lillian's claims of abuse, Arthur says, stem from a November 2010 incident when he was coping with an undisclosed illness. While resting behind closed doors, Arthur says Lillian "came into the room and said I was abusing her and her girls by being ill in bed."

According to Hage, Watkins predetermined my case after the first hearing and I had no chance from then on to prove my innocence." This he says includes Watkins denying him the opportunity to present at least 50 character witnesses.

In most, if not all, of the hearings before him in the last 18 months, Hage says Watkins' "actions and behavior were conducive of a mad man out of control." Specifically, he alleges Watkins demonstrated "unprofessional, unreasonable behavior in the courtroom by yelling at Lillie and myself" which "is all on tape."

Additionally, Hage says Watkins refused to listen to his pleas about getting Lillian treatment for her perceived hormonal and chemical imbalance. Instead, Hage says Watkins, in granting the protective order, prohibited him from discussing Lillian's medical condition with anyone until the order expires in 2030.

Prior to filing the petition, Hage says he attempted to address his issues with Watkins with the Judicial Investigation Commission, the arm of the state Supreme Court that investigates ethics complaints against judicial officers. However, since filing his complaint on Jan 13, he has received no response from JIC.

Also, Hage says his dealings with Watkins were made worse by his attorney, Charles L. "Dusty" Phalen Jr. According to Hage, Phalen "was friends with William Watkins and later showed he was not fighting for me or had my best interest in mind."

Last month, a hearing panel of the Lawyer Disciplinary Board heard from nine of Phalen's former clients who alleged he performed little, if any, work in their respective domestic relations cases. Though he did not necessarily agree with all the facts set forth, Phalen prior to the hearing stipulated to the statement of charges against him.

As part of the stipulation, Phalen agreed to make restitution to his clients who were demanding refunds of the retainers they paid him. Tentatively, the Board said it was recommending Phalen be suspended for a year, and have his practice supervised following his readmission.

A sole practitioner in St. Albans, Phalen served as a family lawmaster from 1990 until 2000 when a constitutional amendment was approved creating a unified family law system under the Supreme Court. In 2008, he unsuccessfully ran for family law judge in Kanawha County.

In the complaint he filed on April 20, Hage says Phalen failed to return repeated phone calls and e-mails he left seeking updates on the case including the dates and times of hearings. Despite relieving him, and filing an appeal of his divorce pro se to the Supreme Court, Hage says Phalen took the liberty of filing one.

His ordeal in family court, Hage says, has "caused me extreme hardship including, but not limited to; undue stress, defamation of my character, verbal abuse, physical, mental anguish, hurt and pain, financial depletion of my assets and financial savings." Also, he says Watkins "does not care about the well being of my wife, and effects that his actions have caused me" adding that he is "just trying to push a divorce through without dealing with the problem."

In his petition, Hage seeks an order rescinding the protective order, and granting him a new hearing with a "fair and unbiased judge."

Also, he wants the order to include a "thorough medical examination" for Lillian.

Also, Hage seeks $5 million in damages for all the "abusive attacks [Watkins] has done to me and my family."

The case is assigned to Judge Phillip M. Stowers.

Putnam Circuit Court case number 12-C-134

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