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Judge William Watkins
Disgraced Former Putnam County Judge Set To Retire And Receive His Benefits
November 21, 2013

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"This morning I now see an article by your buddy Smith with a picture of my home. My home on the front page," Putnam County Family Court Judge William Watkins said. "Shut up! How dare you speak! My wife is disabled. She's there alone. And you, you disgusting piece of..."

This is the video that ended the career of Putnam County Family Court Judge William Watkins.

It went viral, with more than a quarter million views on YouTube.

Watkins was presiding over a divorce proceeding last year when he erupted from the bench.

"I swear to you, you're responsible," Watkins said. "You are responsible! I'm holding you personally responsible for anything that happens at my house! I promise you, I promise you if I so much as see anyone blinking at my home, my wife, my family, you and me are gonna have a problem!"

Arthur Hage is the man Watkins is screaming at. Hage's wife had filed for divorce after more than 30 years of marriage and he was contesting the action.

He shared what was going though his mind when the judge started yelling at him.

"I think the thing that went through my mind is am I in America?" Hage said. "Is this the way people are treated in the court system here? And I was horrified, I couldn't believe it. I was frightened."

Watkins' behavior prompted an investigation. During his hearing he admitted his outburst was uncalled for.

Despite Watkins' desire to remain on the bench, the state supreme court suspended for the the remainder of his term. That happened in March, but Watkins chose not to resign, to keep his insurance benefits intact. He also continued accruing time for his retirement.

Now that he's reached age 60, Watkins is eligible for retirement. He's finally stepping down from the job that was ripped from him by the supreme court several months ago.

"While it's tough for some people in the community to understand the difference, but he wasn't impeached," Steve Canterbury, administrator of the West Virginia Supreme Court said. "He was instead suspended by the court after the investigations commission and finally the hearing board made the recommendations and the court agreed and they suspended him for the length of his term. So that seems to be such a fine division. He's suspended, how come he's still the judge? Well, he's still in the position, he's just suspended from acting, from actually presiding in court but he still has the job."

With eight years in the military and ten years as a family court judge, Watkins is due to receive about $2600 a month in retirement benefits. Although he was never charged or convicted of a crime, there are still those who question whether he should receive those benefits, given his behavior in court.

"People were outraged by what they saw.," Canterbury said. "And I can understand how that would make people feel he shouldn't get retirement or he shouldn't have had any kind of consideration. But the legislature apparently did not feel that strongly because no one brought an impeachment action. And that's how you could have actually had him removed from the position. All the court can do is suspend him from active service, not remove him from the position. They don't have that power. The legislature has that power."

Hage said he holds no ill will toward Watkins, but admits that the judge's behavior left its mark.

"It's really hurt me," Hage said. "It's hurt me so bad. I've lost my family. My church has suffered. My ministry has suffered. I have suffered and it's terrible. It's not right."

"He disgraced himself and he disgraced the bench," Canterbury said. "And he is going to have to live with his disgrace forever. The bench will repair. We get black eyes occasionally. He was a black eye. Obviously there have been others, recently. But I believe that the body of the court is whole and healthy and strong in spite of the fact that we suffer bruises at times. But there's not a government body on Earth that doesn't suffer bruises. It's how you deal with it that counts and I think that we dealt with the Watkins matter pretty well."

Watkins declined to be interviewed for this story, saying he is concentrating on moving forward in his life. His retirement takes effect at midnight on Nov. 30.

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