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Testimony continues in Watkins trial

Nov 17, 2016

KEOSAUQUA – Renee Watkins testified earlier this month about allegations she and her husband, Van Buren County Attorney Abraham Watkins, purchased alcohol for minors on more than one occasion. Her husband is the subject of a removal hearing that could strip him of his position as Van Buren county attorney.

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

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

Renee Watkins testified that on more than one occasion she and Abraham Watkins purchased alcohol for minors, which is in violation of the law, though she did not recall if it was when her husband was county attorney.

The following is a continuation of the testimony she gave to the court about the alleged purchases, as well as testimony concerning two former employees in Abraham Watkins’s office, who are known simply as Victim 1 and Victim 2.

Renee admitted that Abraham Watkins was in their house when she and Victim 2 drank alcohol in the kitchen. There was another allegation from Victim 1 who stated that the Watkinses 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:

ATTORNEY F. MONTGOMERY 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.

BROWN: Who purchased it for her?

WATKINS: I believe I ordered those drinks and the Red Bull Vodka. Victim 1 said she drank Red Bull Vodka. I don’t remember who ordered them, but one came to the table and she didn’t drink either of them.

BROWN: She’s 20 years old?

WATKINS: Correct.

The other allegation testified by one of the victims was Abraham Watkins providing shots of liquor to two Amish girls working for Watkins. Testimony from one of the victims was that both Amish girls were minors.

Renee Watkins did not deny the allegations of providing the alcohol, but said she “checked” with the Amish girls and Watkins testified that they told her they were legal.

At times, Watkins said it was her, not her husband, who made jokes of a sexual nature to the victims in this case.

Victim 2 testified that she went to the doctor about a medical issue and that Abraham Watkins made a comment that was sexual in nature.

Renee Watkins admitted that her husband has a drinking problem, but denied that it got worse as the Gaylord trial date approached in July 2016.

“His drinking is kinda sporadic. He did have a drinking problem, but there was nothing that made it lessen or get worse.”

She denied “begging” Chris Kauffman to remove Abraham Watkins from the house May 30, after he was intoxicated.

“I didn’t call Chris Kauffman, Abe called Chris Kauffman,” said Renee Watkins.

Renee Watkins admitted to having nude photos of herself.

However, she denied that her husband showed the photos to Virginia Barchman, the assistant county attorney.

“That was an accident. Virginia just walked in,” Renee Watkins testified.

She admitted to arguing with her husband in the office in front of the employees. She termed them “arguments,” but later called them “disagreements.”

She said she couldn’t remember how many of those incidents there were.

“When you are married to someone you don’t count arguments. I don’t know,” Watkins testified.

“It happened quite frequently, did it not?,” asked Brown.

“Umm. I don’t know, I guess. A lot of them were disagreements that kinda just happened in my office or in the kitchen,” she answered.

In August 2016, when Victim 2 resigned, Victim 2 texted Renee Watkins about her unhappiness in the office.

The text from Victim 2 read, “he acted like I was a slave and nothing I had to do at home was ever important.”

Brown asked, “and that’s basically what you are saying to Victim 2 on August 9 when you say (in a text) ‘he was the only one that mattered in the office. Getting tired of F-U, F-U (Victim 2),  FU Ginny etcetera? You’re talking about the same thing aren’t you?’”

“Abe never said those things to Victim 2 or Ginny. Those were things he said to me in private when we were talking or discuss and reading this from Victim 2. It seems a little silly to me because Victim 2 left all the time to do her own things and that was never a problem.”

Asked Brown: “It’s all very silly, isn’t it,  these accusations. Is that what you are saying?”

Replied Watkins: “Absolutely.”

It was a surreal moment, one district court judge swearing in another as a witness. But there it was, November 2 when Judge James Drew was swearing in Judge Joel Yates, a witness in the Abraham Watkins’ possible removal hearing.

Yates was the trial judge in the Gaylord trial and Watkins is accused in the removal petition of being under the influence of alcohol for the trial.

Yates remembered that Van Buren Assistant County Attorney Virginia Barchman handled much of the trial.

The accusation is that Watkins was under the influence during voir dire, which is done during jury selection.

Yates doesn’t remember any “close contact conversations” with the lawyers, except right before voir dire.

However, in that one, he remembers being in the judge’s chambers with Barchman, Gaylord and Gaylord’s lawyer, Curtis Dial. “We had a short meeting and used that time to clean up jury instructions.”

He said Watkins was late and was “definitely the fourth and last to arrive and it was close to the start of trial.”

Yates said, however, that “at no time in the trial I thought, wow, Mr. Watkins has been drinking. There was nothing that led me to believe that Mr. Watkins was drinking.”

He remembers during closing arguments, “Mr. Watkins was crying.” He was turned around and Yates said “at first, I thought he was hot, but then I went to the court reporter and she said that Mr. Watkins was crying.”

The only unusual thing about the trial Yates remembers is that one of the jurors did not show up for trial because he had been oversleeping. A reserve officer went to get him, Yates noted.

The state expects Virginia Barchman and a Muscatine county attorney to testify in regards to alleged alcohol use by Watkins in the Gaylord Trial.

A customer on the private  law practice side of Abraham Watkins Law Office testified November 1 that he witnessed Watkins walking in his office in underwear.

Dave Paulek, retired teacher and former Van Buren County Supervisor, said that Abraham Watkins appeared in the office in front of him and Watkins’ female employees in just “boxers and a t-shirt.”

Watkins’ law office is also in the same location as his residence in Keosauqua. The office is on the downstairs’ main floor.

The incident happened in August 2015 around 10:30 a.m. Watkins began his term as county attorney in January  2015.

Paulek testified that Watkins was doing some legal work for him.

Paulek said he was there  at Watkins’ office to pick up papers at Watkins’ request, but they weren’t ready. As he was waiting in the office he said, “Abe came down the stairs in boxers and a  t-shirt. They weren’t shorts. He looked a little rough.”

Paulek said he remembered that the boxers “had a red pattern.”

Paulek said he found Watkins showing up in underwear “unusual” and it later came up in a conversation he had with Chris Kauffman, who is a friend of the Pauleks.

“I wouldn’t call it a complaint, but just an unusual situation,” Paulek said.

Paulek said Watkins’ wife was with him and there was another female employee present.

Paulek mentioned the incident to Van Buren County Assistant Attorney Virginia Barchman, who is also a friend of the Pauleks.

“She found it unsettling and said she saw it before.”

Paulek said otherwise, he was pleased with the legal work that Watkins performed for the family. He said the paper that he was told to pick up, though, still hasn’t been given to him.

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