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Family judge won’t face complaint over screaming

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia Supreme Court administrator said Tuesday he won't file a complaint against a Putnam Family Court judge who screamed at a pastor during his divorce hearing.

Steve Canterbury said that because Putnam Family Court Judge William Watkins has recused himself from the Rev. Arthur Hage's divorce case, a complaint from Canterbury is not warranted.

"I think the judge is embarrassed, and certainly contrite, about his outburst," Canterbury said, "and I think he has rightfully recused himself."

A video of Watkins, 58, screaming at Hage, 61, in his courtroom was posted online last week, after the pastor sued the judge over the handling of his divorce case.

Watkins believed Hage was responsible for posting a photo of the judge's home on a news website. He said his property has been vandalized several times since the photo appeared.

Hage has said he had nothing to do with the photo or the accompanying story.

He told the Gazette last week that he has filed numerous complaints against Watkins to the state Judicial Investigation Commission, which investigates complaints over judges.

After Watkins granted Lillian Hage's divorce petition, Arthur Hage sued Watkins for $5 million. Hage alleged that Watkins should not have granted a lifetime domestic-violence petition to his ex-wife, and that Watkins should have forced his wife to undergo a mental evaluation before granting the divorce. The Supreme Court has assigned that lawsuit to retired Cabell Circuit Judge John Cummings.

Hage also appealed his divorce from Lillian Hage to the Supreme Court, alleging that his wife never would have filed for divorce if she were "in her right mind," according to court documents. That appeal is pending.

Christine Wallace, an attorney with Legal Aid of West Virginia who represents Lillian Hage, wrote in an email to the Gazette that she was "appalled that Mr. Hage released to the public and media a video of confidential family court proceedings."

However, Lisa Tackett, director of family court services for the Supreme Court, said there's no rule to stop him. In fact, the court is seeing more and more confidential proceedings end up on social media sites, she said.

According to the state Code of Judicial Conduct, "A judge shall be patient, dignified, and courteous to litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers, and others with whom the judge deals in an official capacity."

Watkins, who has served as a family court judge since 2002, told the Gazette last week that he lost his temper but didn't think his conduct warranted any punishment.

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


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