Admits He Was Behind On Homeowners Assoc. Fee
Judges are supposed to be polite and fair. However, Putnam County's Family Court Judge William M. "Chip" Watkins, III, has been criticized for his behavior in his courtroom.
Late last fall, PutnamLIVE.com publisher Mark Hallburn received a copy of a HOA newsletter listing Watkins and his wife as "Not in good standing."
So Hallburn telephoned Watkins office to get his side of the story. Watkins did not return several telephone calls. So Hallburn went to Watkins office-in person. Office employee Lori Mitchell ordered Hallburn out of the building. So Hallburn responded with a letter to Watkins politely asking for his side of the story and complaining about Mitchell's behavior. Watkins fired back with the following letter:
Hallburn does not feel his respondent status in a divorce case has anything to do with his First Amendment freedoms as a reporter and the public's right to know about public officials. However, Hallburn's divorce case is no longer being heard by Watkins as the above letter was sent to the West Virginia Supreme Court which ordered Watkins off the case. Hallburn feels Watkins should have recused himself.
Not long after, Watkins was named in a Writ of Prohibition by Terry Hamm, and the same employee, Lori Mitchell, that verbally blasted Hallburn at the courthouse was named in Hamm's writ, stating, "unprofessional outburst, which was witnessed by numerous litigants in the reception area."
Still, Hallburn chose not to report on Watkins and Mitchell's behavior passed the situation and letters to West Virginia Record Reporter Lawrence Smith in order to separate Hallburn from the story and eliminate the accusation of bias. Smith telephoned Watkins (seeking comment). Watkins responded with a voicemail falsely accusing Hallburn of showing up with Troy Sexton. In fact, Hallburn and Sexton have never socialized together and have never met with each other outside of each other's offices. (Sexton and his company, Turnpike Chevrolet, have, at times, purchased advertising on PutnamLIVE.com but are not current advertisers.)
In the voicemail, Watkins threatens to sue Smith for libel, saying his HOA fees are paid. However, in the letter to Hallburn, Watkins states, "Thank you for pointing out that I need to get my homeowner's dues caught up. I hadn't been aware of this until now." In fact, Hallburn never made that accusation. He did ask Watkins why he was listed, in the newsletter, as "Not in good standing," a vague term.
Hallburn has filed a complaint against Watkins, citing his letter to Hallburn, with the West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission. Now that the recording has been revealed, Hallburn plans a second complaint. (Hallburn first heard the recording on the day this article was published, May 22nd, 2012). Hallburn has never appeard in Watkins' court.
"If Watkins does not want to be questioned about paying his HOA dues, all he needs to do is pay them on time," says Hallburn. "He has lived in the home for a decade or more, I am told. He should know when they are due. If people are late on child support, Watkins has been known to throw some in jail. Is this a double standard? I gave him multiple times to tell his side. He chose to attack me in a letter. I left it alone. Then he brought me into the issue in a voicemail to Smith. He falsely accused me of going to the court with Sexton. That never happened. For Watkins to make such a false accusation is appalling. He needs to be removed from the bench."
Sexton says he is "outraged" that Watkins called him a "child abuser" in the voicemail and falsely accused him of visiting the court with Hallburn. Sexton was convicted of one count of child misdemeanor Domestic Battery after a no contest plea in front of Putnam County Magistrate Kimberly M. Blair-Caruthers. (He says he did not hurt his children, was falsely accused, and pleaded no contest to protect his children from having to testify in court). Blair sentenced him to six months in jail. He appealed and was sentenced to 30 days on appeal to then Putnam Circuit Judge Orville C. "Hobby" Spaulding. Sexton later went back to jail for a probation violation.
Watkins has been the subject of a number of negative comments on the Internet forum www.Topix.com.
Smith has been reporting on issues involving Watkins as well as Kanawha County Family Court Judge Michael J. Kelly, who is now handling Hallburn's case. (Hallburn has filed complaints about Kelly with the JIC and West Virginia Supreme Court). Here are some of Smith's reports about Watkins: