CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Putnam County Family Court Judge William M. Watkins left the bench Friday on emergency medical leave, according to a West Virginia Supreme Court news release.Watkins issued a letter Friday to Chief Justice Brent Benjamin saying that his doctor advised him to step down from the bench immediately."Due to my deteriorating health, my doctor has ordered me to take medical leave immediately," Watkins said in the letter.Benjamin appointed former family court judge Deloris J. Nibert to take Watkins' place. The Supreme Court appointed Nibert on Dec. 12 to fill in for Watkins through Dec. 31.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.Earlier this week, Watkins filed for disability and asked the justices to stay their final ruling on his suspension until his application is processed.He also asked the court to dismiss the complaints against him and objected to the board's recommendations. A date will be set for further arguments if the justices choose not to dismiss the complaints.At a hearing last month, Watkins apologized for his behavior. His attorney and the head of the State Bar's Office of Disciplinary Counsel, who was appointed to prosecute the case, jointly recommended that Watkins be suspended for 90 days without pay, but the suspension should be put on hold while Watkins was monitored and underwent counseling.However, the state Judicial Hearing Board opted for a much harsher recommendation of suspension until Watkins' term is up in four years. The board's recommendation goes to the Supreme Court, which will decide Watkins' punishment.