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Judge Watkins takes off until Jan. 2

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Beleaguered Putnam Family Court Judge William Watkins unexpectedly left the bench earlier this week, according to the director of family court services for the West Virginia Supreme Court.

"We were informed by other court personnel in Putnam County that Judge Watkins had continued his hearings and wasn't going to come back until the first of the year," said Lisa Tackett.

But Watkins said he normally takes off this time of year around the holidays and planned to return to work on Jan. 2.

Deloris Nibert, a former Mason County family court judge, was appointed by the state Supreme Court on Wednesday to handle Watkins' domestic violence caseload until the beginning of next year.

Watkins faces seven ethics violations alleging that he delayed rulings, failed to enter domestic violence orders into the state's tracking system and screamed and cursed at litigants.

Recently, the state Judicial Hearing Board recommended that Watkins be suspended until the end of his term in 2016.

Watkins said last week that he plans to file an objection to the hearing board's recommendation. When he does, arguments will be scheduled before the Supreme Court.

Tackett said that Wednesday she received calls from officials at the Putnam County Courthouse about Watkins' absence.

"They called us concerned about domestic violence hearings," she said. "Typically, if you're going to be off from work for any period of time, you send a letter into the chief justice requesting someone cover your emergency docket or DV [domestic violence] docket."

A family court judge has to be available to handle domestic violence cases, which have a 10-day time limit, according to Tackett.

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


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