CHARLESTON – On the eve of a disciplinary hearing against him, a Putnam County family law judge has admitted he behaved inappropriately and unprofessionally in several litigants’ cases.
In a letter dated Nov. 19, Special Judicial Disciplinary Counsel Rachael L. Fletcher Cipoletti notified Rev. Arthur D. Hage, Sharon Stinson, Robert R. Harper, Sr., Tammy Jo Lambert and Mark Halburn she would not need them to testify at a Nov. 27 evidentiary hearing before the Judicial Hearing Board on the statement of charges against Putnam family law Judge William M. “Chip” Watkins III. The reason, Cipoletti said, is that Watkins “has admitted to the allegations set forth” in the statement of charges.
The statement of charges, which acts like an indictment for disciplinary purposes, and was filed Aug. 31, accused Watkins, 58, of 24 violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct for his behavior in Hage’s, Stinson’s, Harper’s, Lambert’s and Halburn’s case. Specifically, the statement alleged Watkins regularly used foul and abrasive language going so far as to call Lambert a “stupid woman," Zachary Wayne Pauley -– the father of Stinson’s child –- a “dumb (expletive)” and Halburn the “south end of a north-bound horse.”
Also, during a May 23 hearing regarding division of property between Hage and his estranged wife, Lillian, Watkins at one point screamed so loud that the courtroom microphones became distorted. A video of the hearing was later uploaded to YouTube which has since been seen nearly 200,000 times, and has made international news.
In Cipoletti's letter, she stated that the hearing would still take place Nov. 27, and the Board would later make its recommendation to the state Supreme Court as to what punishment Watkins should receive. Also, when contacted by The West Virginia Record, Cipoletti said the specific stipulations Watkins made on the statement would be made public at the hearing.
The Record attempted to get a comment from Watkins’ attorney, Robert P. Martin. He did not return repeated telephone calls left at either his office in Charleston or Marlinton.
The statement involving Hage, Stinson, Harper, Lambert and Halburn is one of two pending against Watkins. In July, a two-count statement alleging six Code violations for failing to not only timely make a ruling for division of property between John J. and Nancy Black, but also to upload domestic violence protective orders to the Court’s registry.
In his response to that statement, Watkins admitted to the allegations, but denied his actions, or lack thereof, violated any canons. However, Watkins pledged he and his staff would make a concerted effort to timely upload domestic violence orders to the registry the day they were entered, attend related training and answer and return telephone calls.
The Board will also consider it at the Nov. 27 hearing.
West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, case numbers 12-0925 (statement I) and 12-1008 (statement II)