Fairfield Ledger
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Neighbors Growing Together | Dec 9, 2016

Renee Watkins testifies in husband’s trial

By RUSTY EBERT Ledger correspondent | Nov 15, 2016

KEOSAUQUA – Renee Watkins admitted that she and/or her husband purchased alcohol for minors on more than one occasion, but doesn’t know if that occurred when he was county attorney, she testified Nov. 2 during the removal hearing for her husband Abraham Watkins, Van Buren County Attorney.

Under cross examination, she also called the allegations in the petition filed against her husband “silly,” although much of her testimony corroborated the underlying incidents that victims alleged to have occurred. However, Renee Watkins seemed to shift the responsibility from Abraham Watkins to herself for many allegations that were made by Victims 1 and 2, who were former employees in Watkins’s office.

The trial began Oct. 31. Testimony was taken Nov. 1 and 2.

Judge James Drew continued the trial to November 21 in Poweshiek County. Drew is from Hampton in north central Iowa.

Renee Watkins testified on Nov. 1, with cross examination on Nov. 2. She is the victim coordinator and is a county employee.

Renee Watkins testified that on more than one occasion she and Abraham Watkins purchased alcohol for minors, which is in violation of the law.

One was in Fairfield, at the Shokai Suishi bar. Victim 2 (a former employee in the Watkins office) testified that the parties chose Shokai Suishi because of the tendency not to card.

Renee Watkins said it was because Victim 2 “never had sushi.”

Nevertheless, both agreed that this was the first of three “Employee Appreciation Days” that the Watkinses held in which alcohol was served. On direct examination, Renee Watkins said there were “three” such days, and on cross examination she said there “were a couple.”

Here is the questioning on the purchase of alcohol to minors:

ATTORNEY F. MONTGOMERY BROWN: Now you said something yesterday about multiple employee appreciation days, is that right?

RENEE WATKINS: There were a couple. I wouldn’t say multiple.

BROWN: Well. Is the first one when you and your husband as county attorney took Victim 2 to Shokai in Fairfield?

WATKINS: I don’t know if he was the county attorney at that time.

BROWN: That’s not what I asked you.

WATKINS: You’re asking me the first employee appreciation day was when we took Victim 2 to the Shokai in Fairfield?

BROWN: Was it?

WATKINS: Yes.

BROWN: Okay. Do you have any evidence of when that was? Documentation?

WATKINS: Actually, yes. There’s a video of Victim 2 trying her first piece of sushi.

BROWN: What’s the date of that video?

WATKINS: I don’t know. I’ll have to look.

BROWN: She was only 20 years old, wasn’t she?

WATKINS: She was 20 years old, yes.

BROWN: Who bought her the alcohol?

WATKINS: I did or Abe did. It was our card. we both have a card. I don’t remember who paid for it.

BROWN: And you were a county employee at the time, weren’t you?

WATKINS: I don’t remember if it was when he was county attorney or not.

BROWN: Mr. Watkins was present when alcohol was served to her at a licensed liquor establishment when she was unauthorized to receive that, correct?

WATKINS: You’re asking if he was present?

BROWN: yeah.

WATKINS: yes.

BROWN: At minimum he was present, correct?

WATKINS: What do you mean at minimum he was present?

BROWN: Well, he was there drinking himself, you were drinking, Victim 2 was drinking, correct?

WATKINS: Correct.

BROWN: And the alcohol was supplied by either you or Mr. Watkins or both of you, correct?

WATKINS: Correct.

BROWN: And she was 20 years of age. You don’t deny that do you? Victim 2 got sick on the way home and vomited in your car, correct?

WATKINS: Correct.

BROWN: And she had to call her brother to come get her from your office, correct?

WATKINS: She didn’t have to call her brother, she did call her brother.

On another occasion, she said they traveled to Missouri to purchase alcohol for a minor employee, but didn’t know who purchased it.

Here is the cross examination:

BROWN: Is that trip to Missouri when she was a minor a true incident?

WATKINS: We went to Missouri and I think she was still 20 at that time.

BROWN: Who bought the alcohol that time at the tobacco liquor store?

WATKINS: I don’t remember if it was me or Abe.

She also doesn’t dispute having another “Employee Appreciation Day” trip to Burlington, at The Drake Restaurant, when Victim 2 was still a minor.

Renee Watkins admits to an incident in the car (owned by Victim 2) that day, when she exposed herself and engaged in a crude act that Abraham Watkins videotaped. However, she disputes testimony from Victim 2 that Abraham Watkins later showed Victim 2 the video.

Renee Watkins said that it was herself that showed Victim 2 the video.

Here is the cross examination:

BROWN: Were you and Abe significantly drunk on that occasion?

WATKINS: I was. I don’t think Abe was.

BROWN: Did he video it?

WATKINS: He was already videoing me because I was dancing in my seat and I believe the video shows me looking at him and that’s when he took that.

BROWN: Do you know if he showed that video to his employee Victim 2?

WATKINS: I think I might have shown that to Victim 2.

Victim 1 was an employee who left employment from the Watkinses on Oct. 1 after about four weeks. At first Victim 1 was employed by the Watkins’ law office. She testified that her duties were to do work on the county side of the practice. She later became Watkins’ nanny.

Victim 2 was a full-time employee who began in 2014 before Abraham Watkins became county attorney. In January 2015, when he took office, she worked 29 hours for the county and the rest for Watkins. She resigned in August 2016, alleging a hostile work environment.

There were at least six instances of allegations from both Victim 1 and 2 where the Watkins’ provided alcohol to four young women who were underaged:

Renee Watkins admitted to the incidents in Fairfield, Burlington and Missouri. She also admitted to one in the Watkins’ kitchen that wasn’t alleged when she drank wine with Victim 2. She said she didn’t remember the allegations of drinking in the kitchen with Victim 2 the alcohol that was purchased in Missouri.

She admitted that Abraham Watkins was in the house when she and Victim 2 drank in the kitchen.

There was another allegation from Victim 1 who stated that the Watkins purchased alcohol for her while a minor.

She confirmed the underlying incident, but denied Abraham Watkins purchased the alcohol or that Victim 1 drank it.

Here is the testimony from her cross examination:

BROWN: Were you present when your husband supplied Victim 1 alcohol, Moscow Mule, Red Bull and vodka?

RENEE WATKINS: He didn’t supply them alc...

BROWN: That’s not what I asked you. Were you present when your husband purchased Moscow Mule, Red Bull and vodka for Victim 1?

WATKINS: He did not purchase it for her.

The Ledger will report more on this trial later in the week.

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