Legal Ethics

More Trouble for Angry Judge in YouTube Video; Threatened with Contempt, He Rules In Another Case


A West Virginia judge whose angry comments to a pastor litigating a divorce case gained widespread publicity after a YouTube video of the hearing went viral last month has complied with a state supreme court order to issue a ruling in an unrelated divorce case or be held in contempt.

After three writs of mandamus were filed by John J. Black concerning various delays, the supreme court, with which the third was filed, ordered Putnam County Judge William M. “Chip” Watkins III to respond by June 28. When he didn’t, the court had a clerk confirm with the judge’s case coordinator that he still hadn’t made the divorce ruling in question, and then issued an order telling Watkins to rule by July 10 or be held in contempt, the West Virginia Record reports.

In the July 5 order, the court said Watkins had violated the state constitution, judicial ethics provisions and trial court rules by waiting almost two years to rule on a property division petition. (The divorce was granted in November 2008.)

“Respondent has shown no just cause for his failure to comply with orders of the court,” states the July 5 order. “In fact, he has failed to provide any response. It is abundantly clear that the petitioner is entitled to the relief requested in this matter.”

Watkins issued the required property ruling last week, immediately after the July 5 order, a court clerk told the Record.

Meanwhile, in addition to judicial ethics complaints pastor Arthur D. Hage says he filed against Watkins in the other divorce matter, one of Hage’s parishioners, Paul Bentley, says he has filed a complaint, too. Bentley says he was ordered by Watkins, for no apparent reason, to leave the Putnam County Judicial Building when he attended a hearing with Hage, according to the Record.

Watkins is shown on a court video both ordering a bailiff to eject Bentley and telling the bailiff that “if he smiles” he should be brought into the courtroom “to answer what’s so damn funny,” the article recounts.

The news report doesn’t include any comment from the judge.

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Court Hearing Video of Angry Jurist Shouting ‘Shut Up’ Gains YouTube Traction”

ABAJournal.com: “State Supreme Court Administrator Won’t Pile Another Complaint on Judge in YouTube Video”

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