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Hurricane pastor's lawsuit against judge thrown out

WINFIELD, W.Va. -- A judge on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit filed by a Hurricane pastor against a Putnam County family court judge that sought $5 million in damages over the handling of the pastor's divorce.

After Putnam County Family Court Judge William Watkins granted Lillian Hage's divorce petition last year, 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 Hage's wife to undergo a mental evaluation before granting the divorce.

Hage, who is pastor of the Hurricane Bible Church, has appealed his divorce to the West Virginia Supreme Court, alleging that his wife of 33 years would never have filed for divorce were she "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 last month.

In court Thursday, Watkins' attorney, Teresa Lyons, said that even though Hage alleged Watkins had erred, judicial immunity, which protects judges against lawsuits, was enough to dismiss the case.

Hage, representing himself, said he wouldn't argue with Lyons and only reiterated the claims in his lawsuit and said a short prayer. Watkins sat in the front row of the jury box, away from where litigants normally sit.

John Cummings, a retired Cabell County judge assigned to the case by the Supreme Court, told Hage the administrative exception to judicial immunity didn't apply, and then dismissed the case.

After the hearing, Hage said he had known his lawsuit wouldn't amount to anything. He wanted to bring attention to the way Watkins had treated him, Hage said.

"I sued him out of desperation," he said.

A video of Watkins screaming at Hage during a hearing in May was posted online last month. Even though Hage's lawsuit was filed before the video was posted, Hage said Watkins' behavior in the video was something he had experienced previously.

 Watkins has said he was frustrated and believed Hage was responsible for posting a picture of his home on a local news website. Hage denies putting the photo online.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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