Putnam family court judge hasn't filed for disability
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Beleaguered Putnam County Family Court Judge William Watkins has not filed for disability, according to the executive director of the West Virginia Consolidated Public Retirement Board.
Watkins is awaiting a Supreme Court decision over alleged ethics violations. His lawyer had asked that any punishments be delayed until Watkins' application for disability retirement is processed.
In December, Watkins' attorney, Robert Martin, filed a motion to stay Supreme Court proceedings recommended by the state Judicial Hearing Board that could result in Watkins being suspended without pay until the end of his term in 2016.
The filing argues Watkins should be given 30 days before any decision is made while his application for disability is processed.
"Judge Watkins has commenced the process of filing for disability and upon information and belief the process may take up to twenty to thirty days to complete," according to the motion.
However, the Supreme Court rejected the stay in a 5-0 vote.
Watkins, who has been on the family court bench since 2002, faces seven charges from the state Judicial Investigation Commission alleging he delayed rulings, failed to enter domestic violence orders into the state's tracking system and screamed and cursed at litigants.
At a hearing last week, Justice Menis Ketchum asked Martin to check personally with the retirement board to find the date Watkins applied for disability and to submit it to the court.
After the Gazette filed a Freedom of Information Act request, Jeffrey Fleck, executive director of the state Consolidated Public Retirement Board, said Watkins was sent a disability packet on Dec. 28.
"But as of today, we have not received a retirement application or a disability application," Fleck wrote in an email Friday.
Immediately after the hearing last week, Martin told the court he had misspoken about Watkins' filing, according to Jennifer Bundy, spokeswoman for the Supreme Court.
"He corrected his error immediately after and talked to [the clerk] and the judge," Bundy said. "He said he had been wrong and [Watkins] had not filed."
Martin did not immediately return a phone call Monday.
Watkins said Monday he hadn't decided whether he still planned to file for disability.
"I'm under my doctor's care, and I'll follow whatever they recommend. They haven't made a decision," he said.
Last month, Watkins took an emergency medical leave. Former Family Court Judge Deloris J. Nibert was assigned to take his place.
In previous reports, he blamed his actions on health problems and stress from an overwhelming caseload.
During a November hearing in front of the Judicial Hearing Board, Watkins apologized for his behavior.
At that hearing, counsel for the state Judicial Investigation and Martin jointly recommended Watkins be suspended for 90 days without pay but that the suspension be put on hold while Watkins was monitored for 90 days and underwent counseling.
However, the hearing board's recommendations concluded Watkins' apology was "less than sincere" and included notes from an investigator that said, among other things, his health problems seemed "vague or unusual"; and that his possibly "delusional symptoms should be evaluated."
Watkins said Monday he would wait until the Supreme Court made a decision before filing for disability and retiring.
"As soon as a decision is reached, I will let the chief justice know what I'm going to do," Watkins said.
Martin told the high court the hearing board's punishment would amount to impeachment, which, he said, is unconstitutional.
Reach Kate White at email@example.com or 304-348-1723.