WINFIELD – For the second time in a month, a Putnam County family law judge has dodged a judicial bullet after being called out for his foot-dragging.
Danny Ray Payne II filed a motion July 23 to dismiss his writ of mandamus against William M. "Chip" Watkins III. In his writ filed June 27, Payne, 47, of Red House, asked Putnam Circuit Judge Philip M. Stowers to compel Watkins to issue a revised final order in the divorce from his estranged wife, Billie Dawn Payne, 42.
According to the writ, following a final divorce hearing on June 30, 2010, Billie's attorney Shawn Bayliss prepared a final order which Watkins signed that "consisted of inaccurate and inappropriate rulings." When the case was appealed to circuit court, and remanded back to him following a May 26, 2011 hearing, Payne said Watkins had yet to make a ruling.
As a result of the delay, Payne said he "suffered financial hardship" and "cannot continue to pay the amounts ordered either by the Family Court temporary Order or the Final Order which was remanded, due to the reduction of pay at his employment." The writ was necessary since any "subsequent Orders issued by the Family Court would not be in his best interest or the best interest of his children."
In his motion, Payne said the writ has since been rendered moot due to Watkins issuing a ruling on July 10. The substance of Watkins' order is not specified.
Nevertheless, Stowers on July 27 granted Payne's motion to dismiss.
The West Virginia Record attempted to speak with both Payne's attorney, David O. Moye, and Bayliss about the case. However, neither was immediately available for comment.
Second time under the gun
The Payne case is not the only one where Watkins was accused of failing to timely issue a ruling. His inaction in a case involving an employee of the state Supreme Court caught the Court's attention last month.
The Court on July 5 ordered Watkins to make rulings on motions in the divorce of John J. and Nancy Black by July 10 or be held in contempt. The Court's ultimatum came in response to a writ of mandamus John Black filed on June 12 after Watkins not once, but twice ignored orders by the circuit court to render a decision on equitable distribution of property between the Blacks.
According to court records, Watkins granted their divorce on Nov. 14, 2008. However, along with the sale of their home, John alleged Watkins had yet to make a determination on a qualified domestic relations order on their pensions that was presented to him on July 9, 2010.
Watkins issued a ruling on the Black's property settlement the day after the Court's decision.
Because Nancy is the executive secretary for the Judicial Investigation Commission, all ethics complaints against Watkins are being investigated by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the arm of the Court that investigates attorney misconduct. Currently, at least six complaints have been filed against Watkins this year.
Putnam Circuit Court case number 12-C-202