CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Putnam County Family Court judge has been suspended without pay until the end of his term in 2016, the state Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.
Judge William Watkins faced seven charges from the state Judicial Investigation Commission that he delayed rulings, failed to enter domestic violence orders into the state's tracking system and screamed and cursed at litigants.
He has served as a family court judge since 2002.
In front of the Supreme Court in February, Watkins' attorney argued that the suspension until the end of his term was unconstitutional because it amounted to impeachment, which could only be done by the Legislature.
The court wrote in its opinion, however, that the West Virginia Constitution supports the suspension because Watkins wouldn't be prevented from running for the position in the future. Also, the state constitution gives the court the right to remove Watkins to "foster public confidence in the judiciary and to preserve its integrity."
"The sanctions recommended by the Board come nowhere close to the sanctions that would result from a Legislative impeachment and removal of Judge Watkins from office, such as a forfeiture of his rights to a pension and rights to hold future office," Justice Menis Ketchum wrote in the court's opinion.
Ketchum wrote that the hearing board's recommendations weren't "to punish the judge for his extensive wrongdoing, but to relieve from the bench a person whose further service will be detrimental to the judicial branch of government."
Chief Justice Brent Benjamin wrote a separate opinion concurring with the suspension.
Watkins did not return a phone call Tuesday.
Also Tuesday, the court entered an order to keep Deloris Nibert, a former Mason County family court judge, handling Watkins' caseload. The court first appointed Nibert in December after Watkins took an emergency medical leave.
During a proceeding last year in front of the judicial hearing board, Watkins admitted to violating 24 canons of the state's judicial code of conduct.
Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury filed an expedited ethics complaint against Watkins in July last year after discovering Watkins had allegedly failed repeatedly to rule on cases even after having been ordered to do so by a Putnam Circuit Court judge. Canterbury's complaint also noted Watkins had failed to enter domestic violence orders into the state's tracking system.
On Aug. 31, the Ethics Commission filed five additional charges against Watkins. Those were based on its investigation of complaints from people who appeared in front of Watkins, and primarily involved the judge's behavior in hearings, including allegations of shouting and profanity.
One dealt with a hearing in Arthur Hage's divorce. Hage, a Hurricane pastor, filed a complaint against the judge after Watkins screamed at him and told him to "shut up" during a hearing. A video of the proceedings was posted on the Internet.