Though relatively few Lake County residents have actually met him, many if not most people around here are familiar with Darrell-the right-hand-of-God-Watkins through his many writings that have appeared in every local print media source over the years. The theme of Watkins’s literary efforts generally revolves around his deep-seated belief that good conservative Christian folk such as himself are under constant assault by the homos/liberals/pornographers/women’s libbers/hippies/communists and several other allegedly sinful elements within our society.
Suffice to say that in Watkins’s old testament-ordered mind the world would be a whole lot better off if there was less fornicating, women would stay at home busying themselves with household chores, and if willful schoolchildren were given regular beatings — as the lord himself of course intended. About the only time Watkins has publicly wandered off God’s path of anti-sinner wrath is to rail against the rental home inspection program instituted by the city of Clearlake, which he attacked in an unusually vicious and un-Christian style. So people may be a bit shocked to find that our local self-appointed moral compass and God’s personal envoy is in real life a skinflint slumlord who has gone far out of his way to make life miserable for at least one of his unlucky tenants. Watkins has been in the Real Estate trade for many years and now runs his own realty office in Clearlake, which combined with several rental properties around the Lake seems to be providing him with a quite comfortable existence. In April of 2002 Watkins rented one of his income properties in the Clearlake Riviera to the Cole family of five, whom after doing much cleanup and paint work, soon moved in.
It didn’t take long for problems with the Coles’ new home to crop up, as the supposedly functional heating system turned out to inoperative due to the need for a new underground supply line to the propane tank, the replacement of which Watkins considered to be the kind of minor maintenance chore the renters should be dealing with. After some debate Watkins relented and fixed the line, but soon he had a new home maintenance challenge to deal with at the Cole residence. A water pipe was leaking badly beneath the home, and again Watkins figured major plumbing repairs were the sort of thing his tenants should handle. As the landlord and tenants argued over who was responsible for the repair the leaks got worse and spread to an interior wall, which by now was showing signs of serious water damage. Watkins finally gave in and ordered the repairs, but water in the wrong place once again became an issue, as only a few months later the hapless tenants were now faced with a leaking toilet problem. By this time they had given up on the idea of begging Watkins to do something about the bad smells emanating from the buckling bathroom floor, and took it upon themselves to fix the errant crapper. Upon removing the fixture they found that it had been installed without a wax sealing ring and had been leaking raw sewage into the sub floor insulation of the manufactured home for some time, in addition to rotting the floor itself.
But the house-from-Hell wasn’t done sprouting leaks, as now rainwater-produced leaks made their way onto the ceiling of the children’s room, causing mold to appear and one of the girls to have asthma-like symptoms while her siblings were struck by a series of nasty colds.
The Winter roof leaks weren’t the only water damage to the roof structure, as when warmer weather came and the tenants tried to find out why the roof mounted swamp cooler was leaking, they realized it was about to fall through the roof due to severe wood rot. At this point they reported the problem to Watkins, who claimed the roof was fine and all the swamp cooler needed was a minor float repair, and sent a repairman to take care of it. The repairman gave Watkins the same grim report, that major structural repairs to the roof were definitely needed before the swamp cooler could be made to function. Watkins still disputed the obvious and accused the Coles’ young children of causing the problem by jumping on the roof, a claim so absurd that it was now clear to the tenants that they had no choice but to report the failing roof to the county code enforcement department.
Upon inspection by county officials, the roof structure was found to be so badly damaged that it needed a total replacement, along with the sagging eves that Watkins had illegally and haphazardly lashed to the home. The roof was so weak that a contractor fell all the way through it and the ceiling while doing the county-ordered repairs, during which much evidence of previous sub-standard water damage related repairs were found as well. To make matters worse, the contractors managed to knock out the electrical service to the home while doing the repairs and forced the Coles to spend five days in a motel, the cost of which Watkins only paid a small portion of.
But the Cole family didn’t get to enjoy the comfort of a new leak-free ceiling, as on June 3rd 2004 they were served an eviction notice just hours after Watkins got the bad news from the county that his roof was falling apart. Soon after their return from the motel, the evicted family abandoned the sieve-like structure and headed for a new home in the same neighborhood while filing a $5,000 small claims court case.
The claim was for compensation for their lost deposit and a half months rent, motel bill and two refrigerators full of ruined food, in addition to the cost of moving and treating the illnesses their children suffered from. Even though the rent was still paid up after they had left, Watkins felt free to enter the Cole’s home as he pleased and even put his own lock on the garage, stranding some of his tenant’s remaining belongings until a sheriff’s deputy was called by the Cole’s to remedy the situation.
Once the case came before judge Vincent Lechowick (formerly of Mendocino County) in early October Watkins took a righteous pummeling from his honor, who found that the landlord was guilty of wrongful retention of the security deposit and retaliatory eviction, in addition to renting a chronically uninhabitable dwelling. Shocked by photos showing the extent of the mold and water damage in the home, Lechowick awarded the Coles the full $5,000 they had requested.
Watkins never paid a dime of the award and filed an appeal and countersuit, the latter being dismissed while the former came before judge Vonasek in January of 2005. Even though Watkins was a no-show apparently due to a court caused notification snafu, the judge inexplicably reduced the settlement to $2,700, without even hearing a single word from Watkins. Fed-up with his treatment by judge Vonasek, Mr. Cole blurted out words to the effect that a Black man such as himself couldn’t get any justice in Lake County courts, which caused his honor to abruptly leave the bench in a huff without responding to the charge. Bailiffs came running as Mr. Cole quickly left the courtroom, and order was soon restored in the hallway following the outburst that ended the court proceedings for the day.
Mr. Cole had plenty of reason to have doubts about the level of colorblindness in the Lake County justice system, since several years ago he barely escaped a prison-for-life sentence after being framed by a deputy sheriff who was seeing the same woman Mr. Cole had been living with before he was married.
Mr. Cole and his sad tale of being framed on trumped-up third-strike drug charges are well known to nearly everyone working on the fourth floor of the Lake County courthouse, along with many working outside the building in local law enforcement and legal circles.
Word of the unfair outcome of the appeal got back to the first judge to hear the Cole’s case, who felt his colleague had seriously erred and a new court date was set for March 18, where it is very likely that the full $5,000 settlement will be restored.
Not pleased with the prospect of shelling out $2,700 let alone the full $5,000, Watkins phoned the office where Mrs. Cole works in a real estate-related business, and told her boss about Mr. Cole’s crime-related legal troubles in the long-distant past in an obvious effort to plant seeds of doubt about the trustworthiness of his long-time employee. How Watkins could have obtained such a sensitive information is open to question, but may have something to do with his close ties to persons within the Clearlake police department.
Regardless of how Watkins came by the data it’s certain that A: Jesus wouldn’t have done anything so vindictive and small-minded, and B: it will do more to help the Coles’ case in their next and hopefully final round of courtroom battles with their self-styled paragon of Christian values landlord.