Investigator put on judicial watchdog panel

Hard-nosed investigator Richard Hyde has tormented wayward judges by uncovering their misconduct. Now he will stand in their judgment.

On Friday, Gov. Nathan Deal put Hyde — whose investigations led to the resignations of more than 30 judges — on the seven-member commission that oversees and regulates judicial conduct.

“It’s an honor,” Hyde said of his appointment to a four-year term on the Judicial Qualifications Commission. The appointment is sure to get the attention of judges statewide.

Hyde’s investigations uncovered misconduct that made national news and stunned the state’s legal community. Among them: a judge having an affair with a public defender who had cases before him; a judge who brandished a firearm in open court before an alleged assault victim, and a chief judge who cut a secret deal for a convicted sex offender.

Hyde’s highest-profile case involved Amanda Williams, who resigned as a chief judge in Brunswick after being charged with behaving in a tyrannical manner and indefinitely locking up some drug court defendants in isolation.

The governor thinks there is no person more qualified than Hyde to fill one of the two “regular citizen” slots on the commission, Deal’s spokesman, Brian Robinson, said. “He has years of experience of investigating cases involving the judiciary and he’ll be a tenacious watchdog for the people of Georgia on the JQC.”

Said Stephen Bright, senior counsel for the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, “This appointment is a powerful statement by the governor to protect the integrity of the judiciary when some judges would like to weaken or take down the JQC.”

The JQC, composed of three lawyers, two judges and two citizens, investigates complaints of judicial misconduct and can bring formal charges. If necessary, the JQC can convene a tribunal, hearing evidence from an accused judge and a prosecution team. If it finds a judge committed wrongdoing, the JQC sends its recommendations to the Georgia Supreme Court.

Since Hyde began working as a JQC investigator in 2007, few judges have wanted to see him drive up in his truck to their courthouses and start asking questions. During this time, the JQC’s profile has risen steadily as a succession of prominent judges resigned in disgrace.

Hyde, 53, previously worked with former state Attorney General Mike Bowers and former DeKalb County District Attorney Bob Wilson as special investigators who uncovered widespread test-cheating in the Atlanta Public School System.

Before that, Hyde worked as an Atlanta street cop; a WAGA-TV producer who won regional Emmy awards; and chief investigator at the state Attorney General’s Office, where he built a massive fraud case against two former Medical College of Georgia professors. Hyde now works as investigator at Bowers’ law firm, Balch & Bingham.

“It’s an outstanding appointment by the governor,” JQC Director Jeff Davis said. “The commission will obviously be addressing our needs for our investigations as we continue to fulfill our obligations.”

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