Paulding County judge retires in face of probe

A Paulding County judge who came under a firestorm of criticism for trying to help his daughter win election as his successor is retiring in the face of an investigation by the state’s judicial watchdog agency.

Superior Court Judge James Osborne will step down from office on Oct. 1, according to papers filed Tuesday with the Georgia Supreme Court.

Osborne, who could not be reached for comment, chose to retire after the Judicial Qualifications Commission launched an inquiry against him but before the commission voted to hold a formal hearing. The agency’s court filing did not provide any specifics as to why Osborne was being investigated.

JQC Chairman Robert Ingram declined to comment on his agency’s probe.

Osborne was strongly criticized early this year when he qualified for re-election, then withdrew on March 7 shortly before the qualifying deadline. Incumbent judges rarely face opposition, and Osborne was still unopposed at that time. Shortly after he withdrew, his daughter, Dallas attorney Elizabeth Osborne Williams, qualified to run for the judgeship unopposed.

After watchdog groups and legal ethics experts cried foul, Osborne and his daughter agreed not to seek election.

Osborne would have completed his term at the end of the year. Now, he is retiring three months before that. Gov. Nathan Deal will appoint his successor.

In 2008, Osborne came under scrutiny after he sealed then-House Speaker Glenn Richardson’s divorce file. Osborne was the speaker’s former law partner and his daughter worked at Richardson’s law firm. After questions were raised as to whether he gave Richardson special treatment, Osborne disqualified himself from the case, saying he wanted “the full confidence of the public in the judicial process.”

More recently, the Paulding District Attorney’s Office asked Osborne to remove himself from a number of criminal cases, Chief Assistant District Attorney Steve Messinger said Tuesday.

“It’s based on allegations that we believe would show that he was biased or would give an impartial onlooker the impression he was biased against the prosecution,” Messinger said. Osborne dismissed those motions seeking his recusal and some of those orders are being appealed, the prosecutor said.

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