Hearing Board Seeks to Keep Yelling Judge Off Bench, Notes His Angry Glare During Hearing

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A West Virginia judge accused of yelling at litigants didn’t help his case during a hearing last month before the state’s Judicial Hearing Board.

The hearing board is recommending Judge William Watkins III be kept off the bench for the rest of his term and explained why in an opinion (PDF) released last Tuesday. The Charleston Gazette, the Charleston Daily Mail and the State Journal have stories.

According to the opinion, Watkins showed his displeasure when a complainant addressed the hearing board and asked Watkins to face him. The chairman of the hearing board told the complainant the request was improper. “Despite what appeared to be the advice of his counsel that he not do so,” the hearing board wrote, Watkins “turned in his chair, leaned back, crossed his arms, and glared at complainant in an angry and confrontational manner.”

Watkins’ demeanor, the board said, made his expressed remorse for repeated instances of angry courtroom behavior appear “less than sincere.”

The opinion rejects a recommendation for a 90-day unpaid suspension that would be stayed if Watkins agrees to judicial monitoring. Instead, the hearing board is recommending that Watson be suspended without pay for the entire length of his judicial term, which ends Dec. 31, 2016. It is also recommending he pay nearly $18,000 to cover the costs of the case.

Watkins made headlines when he shouted “shut up” at a preacher in a videotaped tirade. In another instance, he is accused of yelling at a litigant, “Shut up, you stupid woman.”

According to the hearing board, Watkins “has demonstrated a preference for using threats, intimidation, profanity and shouting rather than the tools available to judges, including civil and criminal contempt, to deal with admittedly difficult litigants.”

Though Watkins had apologized to the hearing board, he appeared confident in an Oct. 31 evaluation, the hearing board said. The evaluator reported that Watkins believed the ethical complaints against him would all go away. “They will realize I’m the best family judge in West Virginia, without any question,” Watkins reportedly told the evaluator.

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