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Putnam judge admits errors but not code violations

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Putnam County family court judge admitted many allegations that he shouted and used profanity against people who appeared in his court, but he doesn't think those actions violated the state's Judicial Code of Conduct.

William Watkins filed his response Wednesday to charges filed against him on Aug. 31 by the state Judicial Investigation Commission, which stems from five complaints filed against him by five people who appeared in his court. The charges primarily deal with his conduct during hearings, including claims that he shouted and used profanity in court.     

The charges mean an investigation has been conducted by the state Office of Disciplinary Counsel and a report given to the Judicial Investigation Commission. It also means the commission has found probable cause to believe that Watkins violated the state Code of Judicial Conduct, which establishes canons, or specific rules, that judges are expected to uphold in court.

In all five counts, the complaint from the state Judicial Investigation Commission alleges that Watkins violated a number of canons.

In his response, Watkins denies violating any of the canons. He denies his behavior shows a pattern that he has failed to uphold the high standards of conduct and integrity required of judges. He also denies that he has repeatedly failed to treat litigants with respect and dignity and that he failed to maintain and require "decorum and order" in his court.   

The complaint alleges Watkins violated canons stating that judges will "uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary" and "avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of the judge's activities," among others that he denies.

Watkins asks the state Judicial Hearing Board, which will consider his case next month, to dismiss the charges against him. 

Robert P. Martin, Watkins' attorney, filed the response about a week after a 30-day deadline. The delay was an administrative error, Martin wrote. But he asked that the response still be accepted.

Watkins is also facing two other charges filed against him in July that allege he failed to rule on motions, even after circuit judges told him to, and he didn't enter domestic violence orders into the state's tracking system.

In part of his response to those charges, Watkins said he would "make every effort" to review all orders in a timely manner, make sure domestic-violence orders are entered into the state's tracking system the day of, attend education and training programs and make sure all phone calls are answered or dealt with within 24 hours.

The Judicial Hearing Board will handle both sets of charges against him during a hearing at 10 a.m. on Nov. 27 at the Kanawha County Judicial annex.

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

 


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