The state Supreme Court has ordered Putnam County Family Court Judge William Watkins be suspended without pay for the rest of his term.
The order, handed down Tuesday afternoon, upholds the recommendation from the state Judicial Hearing Board which said the suspension should remain through 2016.
The Board determined last year that Watkins committed 24 separate violations of nine Canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct. The violations ranged from Watkins’ courtroom behavior to his delay in filing orders.
During oral arguments before the High Court last month Watkins’ attorney told the Court a four-year suspension was basically impeachment of Watkins from office, which would be unconstitutional.
Justice Menis Ketchum rejected the argument in the opinion handed down Tuesday:
“Because suspending a judge carries substantially different consequences than impeaching and removing a judge from office,” Ketchum wrote.
He also said the state Constitution empowers the Court to impose “all disciplinary measures short of removal from the bench in order to foster public confidence in the judiciary, and to preserve its integrity.”
Ketchum concluded it is ultimately important to uphold the integrity of the court system.
“The Judicial Hearing Board’s recommendation that Judge Watkins be suspended from office is not to punish the judge for his extensive wrongdoing, but to relieve from the bench a person whose further service will be detrimental to the judicial branch of government,” the justice wrote.
Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin wrote a concurring opinion.
Former Family Court Judge Deloris Nibert will continue to serve as temporary family court judge in Putnam County. Watkins began his time on the bench in 2002.