SUPCO Watkins Case
Members of the state Supreme Court questioned Tuesday whether agreeing to suspend a Putnam County Court judge for the rest of his term would violate the state Constitution.
The High Court heard oral arguments in the case of Family Court Judge William Watkins who faces seven counts of judicial misconduct for 33 alleged violations ranging from his courtroom demeanor to his delay in filing orders.
The state Judicial Hearing Board has recommended the Supreme Court suspend Watkins for four years, which would be the rest of his term, which ends in 2016.
Justice Robin Davis questioned the recommendation.
“I don’t have a lot of sympathy based upon what I’ve seen for Judge Watkins and his mannerisms in the courtroom, let me very clear about that,” Davis said. “But I hope we don’t leave procedural due process and the Constitution outside of those doors when we come in here to argue.”
Fellow Justice Menis Ketchum says the recommendation is for suspension but it would really be more than that.
“The board recommended a four-year suspension and that’s really a De Facto impeachment for Judge Watkins,” Ketchum said.
State law says violations carry up to a 1-year suspension.
Watkins’ attorney Bob Martin says he’s searched high and low for a similar case across the U.S. and he hasn’t found one.
“There is no case that has the language identical or even extremely close to the language we have in our Constitution where such language has been upheld,” Martin said.
He argued the word suspension means temporary but that’s not the case in the hearing board’s recommendation.
“This is not temporary, even if you run them (charges) consecutively,” Martin told the Supreme Court. “That’s not a temporary suspension, that’s unconstitutional.”
Judicial Investigation Commission attorney Rachael Cipoletti told the justices the recommendation should be accepted. She says the hearing board found Judge Watkins was not credible when he admitted he was wrong for his behavior and would change.
“The hearing board was very, very clear in its order that they did not believe the judge,” Cipoletti argued.
She said Watkins’ reaction at the Nov. hearing when someone was permitted to make statements about him sent a message to the board.
“The very first stressful event he was in (after his testimony to the board) he flipped out. He turned around rocked his arms back and rocked in his seat and was confrontational and angry,” Cipoletti said.
Cipoletti and Watkins’ attorney had originally agreed to a 90-day suspension but the hearing board went further with a four-year suspension.
Martin maintains You Tube video of Watkins’ courtroom demeanor helped blow the allegations against him out of proportion. He said Tuesday he could have put on many witnesses in support of Watkins at the Nov. hearing.
The Supreme Court will hand down a written order in the case later this year.
Watkins has applied for disability retirement.