Replace the West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission

Bad judges are protected by other judges

When Putnam County Court Judge William M. “Chip” Watkins was allowed to resign November 30th, 2013, it marked the end of an era – both with Watkins’ blatant courtroom misconduct and with a bad Judicial Investigation Commission that works harder to protect bad judges than discipline them.

Here are some facts:

●Complaints were filed against Watkins in early 2012. His discipline hearing wasn’t until November 27th, 2012.
●A complaint was filed against Judge Michael J. Kelly who lied about a budget not being received and caused a little boy to miss a final visit with his dying grandmother. The complaint was dismissed.
●A complaint against WVJIC Commission President Judge Ronald Wilson for the commission’s refusal to charge Kelly was dismissed.
●When Kelly was sued, Judge James Hatcher lied and said that court documents were not filed. A complaint against Hatcher was dismissed.
●The WVJIC refuses to release complaints against Judges, hiding their transgressions. This is a blatant violation of The First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Reporter Lawrence J. Smith filed a lawsuit which the WVJIC is vigorously fighting in court-rather than “coming clean” with the information.
●The WVJIC meets privately with no public disclosure of minutes, issues, and how each commissioner votes on whether or not to charge a judge.
●A complaint against Kelly illegally incarcerating’s Publisher, Mark Hallburn, despite Hallburn providing TWO methods of payment for sanctions has yet to result in charges against Kelly and his removal from the bench.
●Complaints filed against Watkins by Margaret Farmer and Troy Sexton have not been acted on by the WVJIC, denying these citizens justice.
●Watkins has not been ordered to pay sanctions against those that he admitted to wronging.
●Commission members only meet once per month while judges are allowed to abuse people every day. This double standard is a sham.

These are the issues that we can report to you. As stated above, the WVJIC refuses to release complaints against judges and refuses to hold commission meetings in public – effectively conspiring to protect those that it is supposed to discipline. This lends people to believe that the West Virginia courts are corrupt and that judges can get away with misconduct on a daily basis. Unfortunately, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals won’t fix the problem.

We are calling on a replacement of the WVJIC with a civilian review board that meets daily to take action on complaints against judges. We are calling for the public disclosure of all complaints against judges. We are calling for all WVJIC meetings and hearings to be open to the public and the press. We are calling for complete transparency in all areas of government-including the WVJIC.

Amazingly, despite world-wide publicity about the Watkins videos, West Virginia legislators refused to replace the WVJIC in the last session. That’s a failure that must be rectified with a complete overhaul of the WVJIC. Show some leadership, legislature, or get out of office!

West Virginia’s court system is an embarrassment and a sham. Corruption runs rampant because the WVJIC refuses to clean up its process. The only way to fix the WVJIC is to immediately replace it with an independent civilian review board.

Publisher’s note: This commentary was first published on

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