Online video latest in Putnam judge-pastor feud
WINFIELD, W.Va. -- A video of a Putnam County family court judge screaming at a Hurricane pastor in his courtroom was posted online this week, after the pastor sued the judge over the handling of his divorce case.
The family court judge, William Watkins, believes the pastor, Arthur Hage, is responsible for a photo of the judge's home on a local news website. He said his property has been vandalized several times since the photo appeared.
Hage said he had nothing to do with the photo or the accompanying story.
Watkins, who is on vacation, learned about the YouTube video of the May 23 hearing from a Gazette reporter on Wednesday. He admitted he lost his temper with Pastor Arthur Hage, of the Hurricane Bible Church, but doesn't believe he violated any judicial code of conduct.
Watkins said he's "tried the very best he can" while dealing with Hage's divorce case, but he's "frustrated."
After Watkins granted Lillian Hage's divorce petition, Arthur Hage sued Watkins for $5 million. Hage alleged that Watkins should not have granted a lifetime domestic violence petition to his ex-wife, and that Watkins should have forced his wife to undergo a mental evaluation before granting the divorce. Hage's lawsuit has been assigned to retired Cabell Circuit Judge John Cummings by the West Virginia Supreme Court.
Hage also appealed his divorce to the state Supreme Court, alleging his wife would never have filed for divorce if she was "in her right mind," according to court documents. That appeal is pending.
Hage also filed a lawsuit against his wife and daughter regarding the divorce. That lawsuit was dismissed Tuesday.
In the 15-minute video from Watkins' court, Watkins began the hearing by telling Hage, 61, not to "say one word out of turn" or he would be jailed.
Watkins, 58, who has served as a family court judge since 2002, blames Hage for a picture of his home being displayed on the website putnamlive.com. The picture of Watkins' home ran with a story alleging Watkins is behind on his homeowners' association fees.
"Because of you, my wife is there alone ... My house has been vandalized four times," Watkins screams at Hage, who had no attorney at the hearing. "I swear to you, you're responsible.
"I'm holding you personally responsible that anything that happens at my house and I promise you. I promise you if I so much as see somebody breaking in my home, my wife, my family -- you and me are going to have a problem," Watkins said in the video.
Watkins said Wednesday that Hage was with a reporter that does freelance work for putnamlive.com at a previous hearing.
"The next day I saw the picture of my house on the website," Watkins said. "That was the one thing that set me off."
Hage said he had nothing to do with the picture and no affiliation with the website.
"I don't even know where he lives. I knew nothing about the article," Hage said Wednesday. "He wouldn't let me talk, so all I could do was sit there and take it."
Watkins told the Gazette the windows of his wife's car have been smashed several times and that someone has broken a window in his house with a hammer since the picture ran.
In the video, Watkins apologized to Hage's ex-wife and her attorney, Christine Wallace, after yelling at Hage.
Wallace said Wednesday she could not comment on the video.
State Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury said he watched the video of the hearing Wednesday.
"Obviously the judge lost his temper. Judges are humans, they can lose their temper," Canterbury said. "Ideally, he would've called a recess, regained his composure and come back even-tempered and he didn't."
The state Judicial Investigation Commission investigates complaints over judges. Canterbury said he hasn't decided whether the video warrants filing a complaint on Watkins with the commission.
"I'm not going to rush to judgment," he said.
According to the state Code of Judicial Conduct, "A judge shall be patient, dignified, and courteous to litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers, and others with whom the judge deals in an official capacity ..."
Hage told the Gazette he has filed several complaints about Watkins with the judicial commission.
Reach Kate White at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1723.